Exercise and Your Mental Health

exercise and your mental health

Everyone has experienced sadness, anger, anxiety, stress and many more emotions that can completely alter your entire day. For some, these emotions can quickly go away and you can feel like your normal self in no time. For others, these emotions can stick to you and get in the way of your daily life. It can affect your work, schooling, social life, family and loved ones as well. Mental health affects how we feel, think, and act. Bryant Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy invites you to find out how physical therapy can help improve your overall health. 

mental health 1024x783 Exercise and Your Mental Health


What is Mental Health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness differ in meaning. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.


Signs of Mental Health Illness

Each illness has its own symptoms, but common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following:

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance


How Can Exercise Help Manage Mental Health?

There are many beneficial physiological changes that exercise can improve. This includes improved sleep, the release and improved metabolism of chemicals, such as serotonin and endorphins in the brain and central nervous system, and physical changes to the brain. Exercise increases brain volume and blood flow, which improves neural functioning.

The psychological impacts of exercise include heightened self-esteem, the interruption of negative thoughts, and an increase in healthy social contact. Together, these changes, paired with improvements to physical health, can vastly improve overall quality of life.


What mental illnesses benefit from exercise?


  • Exercise helps reduce the symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
  • Exercise can prevent the onset or recurrence of depression.
  • Exercise can help counteract the weight gain caused by antidepressant medications.


Anxiety Disorders

  • Regular exercise significantly reduces the symptoms of anxiety.
  • Exercise can act as a healthy form of exposure to the physical symptoms of panic attacks, such as increased heart rate and sweating. Exposure can help clients become more familiar and comfortable with the sensations that were formerly perceived as dangerous or scary.


Substance Abuse

  • Regular exercise can reduce the frequency and intensity of drug cravings.
  • Clients who begin exercising are less vulnerable to relapse.
  • Some studies have found lower rates of first-time drug use in youth involved with exercise programs.
  • Exercise provides a healthy replacement activity for time previously occupied by drug use.


Eating Disorders

  • Exercise was found to be more effective than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of bulimia in one study of young women.
  • Adding an exercise component to CBT improves treatment outcomes for binge eating disorder.


Other Benefits

  • Improved sleep
  • Slowed progression of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Stress relief
  • Improved mood
  • Increased energy
  • Slowed cognitive decline associated with aging
  • Better physical health and fitness


Exercise and Physical Activity 

Both anaerobic and aerobic exercises have been found to improve mental health, but a combination of the two is most effective. Anaerobic exercise involves short bursts of intense activities. These exercises are performed using energy stored within muscles. Aerobic exercises are lower intensity, but can be maintained for a longer duration. They rely on the energy generated from oxygen intake.



  • Weight lifting 
  • Running
  • Biking



  • Walking 
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Dancing


If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues and would like to learn more about physical activities that can help with symptoms related to mental health, give us a call. We are conveniently located in Merced and Atwater, CA. Make sure to also visit our Instagram and Facebook page for educational videos on exercises that help reduce symptoms related to mental health. 

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Created by: Margarita Perez, Director of Public Health Program Developer

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