As fitness professionals, we are aware of the range of benefits that exercise can provide. In this short blog, we will focus on the benefits of regular exercise for mental health. Use this information to educate and motivate your clients and prospective clients to become active daily.

Regular physical activity is crucial for maintaining good mental health. Studies have shown that regular exercise can have a range of benefits both physiologically as well as psychologically, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, enhancing cognitive function, and boosting overall mood.

Exercise as effective as medication

One recent study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2018 found that exercise can be just as effective as medication in treating depression. The study followed a group of 364 participants with major depressive disorder over the course of 12 weeks, assigning them to one of three groups: exercise, medication, or a combination of exercise and medication. The researchers found that all three groups experienced significant reductions in symptoms of depression, with the exercise-only group showing comparable improvements to the medication-only group.

Reduces depression and anxiety symptoms

Another study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2018 found that exercise can have long-lasting benefits for mental health. The study followed a group of 33,908 Norwegian adults over the course of 11 years, assessing their levels of physical activity and symptoms of depression and anxiety. The researchers found that those who engaged in regular physical activity had a significantly lower risk of developing depression and anxiety over the 11-year period and that the protective effect persisted even after adjusting for other factors such as age, sex, and socioeconomic status.

Improves cognitive function and sleep

Exercise has also been shown to improve cognitive function, particularly in older adults. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2019 found that a six-month exercise program improved cognitive function and reduced symptoms of depression in a group of 150 older adults with mild cognitive impairment. The study participants engaged in a program of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for 150 minutes per week, and the researchers found significant improvements in both cognitive function and mood.

Another study by the University of British Columbia found that regular exercise can increase the growth of new brain cells, which can help to improve cognitive function and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise can help to regulate the body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can also help to reduce symptoms of insomnia, which is a common condition worldwide.

Improves mood and self-esteem

In addition to these benefits, exercise has also been shown to enhance overall mood and well-being. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2019 found that even short bouts of moderate-intensity exercise can have an immediate positive effect on mood. The study participants engaged in 10 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling, and the researchers found significant improvements in mood immediately following the exercise session.

Self-esteem is another important aspect of mental health. Regular physical activity can increase self-esteem by promoting feelings of accomplishment and pride. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which can make you feel good. Additionally, regular physical activity can improve your physical appearance, which can also boost self-esteem.

Reduces stress

Stress is a common problem that affects millions of people worldwide. Regular physical activity can help to reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body as well as promote feelings of relaxation and calm.


To benefit from the positive effects of regular physical activity on mental health, it is important to make sure that the Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) guidelines are being achieved. It is recommended that adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. It is also recommended that adults engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least twice per week.

There are many different types of physical activity that can be beneficial for mental health. For example, activities such as walking, running, cycling, swimming, and weightlifting can all be great ways to get the exercise that you need. Activities such as yoga and tai chi can be great for promoting relaxation and reducing stress. Mindfulness and meditation practices also can be beneficial for mental health.
However, the most important consideration is the interests and enjoyment of each individual client in the type the exercise that they will want to participate in regularly.

In conclusion, regular physical activity is crucial for maintaining good mental health. Regular exercise can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, promote feelings of well-being, and improve cognitive function. Additionally, being active can also help to improve sleep, increase self-esteem, and reduce stress.



Blumenthal, J. A., et al. (2018). Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder. JAMA Psychiatry, 75(7), 675-682.

Harvey, S. B., et al. (2018). Exercise and the prevention of depression: Results of the HUNT cohort study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(1), 28-36.

Liu-Ambrose, T., et al. (2019). Aerobic exercise and cognitive function in older adults: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 67(10), 2020-2028.

Reed, J. & Buck, S. (2019). The effect of regular aerobic exercise on positive-activated affect: A meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(8), 475-480.