The Importance of Addressing Mental Health in Fitness and Exercise.


Regular exercise and fitness programs benefit positively the mental health status of an individual as it increases energy level. This helps to alleviate symptoms such as social withdrawal and low self-esteem thereby improving tolerance of activities of daily living.

Several health benefits such as improvement of mood, stress relief, effective sleep pattern, and better endurance are all related to consistent activities of physical exercises.

Here, this article brings to you why the roles played by the actions of daily exercises and fitness are important in building your mental hygiene and in reducing poor prognosis of mental illnesses.

Exercise and what it does to the body.

Exercise is a physical activity intended to improve strength and fitness. It’s well known to alleviate ailments such as heart and lung diseases, hypertension, diabetes, and cerebrovascular accidents i.e stroke and obesity. However, it also improves mental health and wellness as it induces chemicals that enhance your mood.

Mental fitness is as important as physical fitness because you need your emotional health in adequate shape to build a sharper mind and better productivity in your daily activities.

Of course, you do know that the more attention you put into having a healthier body, the more it reflects in the mind. Physical exercises enhance the flow of oxygen to the brain and increase the release of “endorphins”, which are the feel-good chemicals in the brain. This helps us to attain a better level of mental agility. It also helps increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory.

According to a study in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, certain memory training exercises can increase “fluid intelligence” and the ability to learn and comprehend effectively.

Mental Health Benefits

Mental health is defined as a complete state of psychological, emotional, spiritual, bio-physiological, and social well-being of an individual characterized by an individual’s ability to function and interact meaningfully and effectively within a given society.

However, this is not mostly obtained by everyone due to the dysfunctional state of the central nervous system that results in a complete disintegration of the individual’s personality. 


Among all the important measures used to combat mental illness and maintain mental hygiene is exercise, as it serves several benefits in ensuring mental fitness and promoting mental health. Check out the roles it plays in sustaining mental health.


  1. Depression and Anxiety: Exercise causes an improvement in mood as there’s an increase in blood circulation to the brain, which influences the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal(HPA) axis. The HPA axis then communicates with other regions of the brain such as the limbic system which controls mood and motivation. Exercise also helps an individual to associate with activities preventing the occurrence of social withdrawal which further aggravates anxiety and depression.


  1. Stress: This is one of the factors responsible for body discomfort and pain and can result in agitation or the feelings of frustrations. Exercise helps to relieve this form of tension as the HPA axis communicates with the amygdala, a region of the brain that generates fear in response to stress. Increased heart rate also reverse stress induced brain damage by enhancing the production of neurohormones such as norepinephrine, which helps to improve cognition and mood.


  1. Sleep: Exercise helps to regulate your circadian rhythm i.e the body’s built-in clock that controls when we are at alert and when we are tired. Research has shown that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep an individual gets. Slow wave sleep refers to deep sleep, where the body and brain have a chance to rejuvenate. Exercise also raises the core body temperature, which signals the body that it’s time to be awake. After 30 or 90 minutes, the core temperature starts to fall, this decline helps to enhance sleep.


  1. PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and Trauma:  Exercise helps an individual to move out of the immobilisation response that accompanies trauma. It helps the mind to focus positively on moving the limbs, joints and muscles instead of letting the mind wander negatively to brood further about the event.


  1. Cognitive boost: Exercise prevents cognitive decline and memory loss by strengthening the hippocampus; the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. This helps to improve overall brain performance.


  1. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders): The symptoms of ADHD can be reduced by exercise, which in return improves concentration, memory and mood. Physical activity boosts the brain’s dopamine, epinephrine and serotonin levels, all of which influences focus and attention.

Best Exercise for Mental Health

It’s important to note that the best exercise for your mental health is the one that you enjoy, it’s the key that makes it a positive habit that you can be consistent with for a long period of time.

If you are still in doubt about what form of exercises to choose, here are some effective mood boosting exercises.


  1. Walking: Going for a walk for as little as 15 minutes helps to clear the mind, ease stress and cope with anxiety. It reduces the risk of isolation and social withdrawal and also helps you breathe in fresh air.
  2. Running: This form of exercise plays a perfect role in maintaining fitness, physical health as well as mental health. On a run, mood elevating endorphins combine with the post run ‘runners high’ enhancing the feelings of euphoria and wellness.
  3. Boxing and Martial arts: This might seem difficult to believe but punching and kicking movements are ideal stress boosters which stimulates the release of endorphins. It can help boost your self esteem and confidence. It also helps you learn better about self control, confidence and bravery.
  4. Yoga: This is close to meditation and thoughtful breathing exercises. It helps to ease stress, muscle tension or rigidity and also increases body awareness.
  5. Cycling: This can help you with your mindfulness practice, defend against cognitive decline and helps you to socialise, build comfortable relationships with friends and families
  6. Aerobics or gym exercise: This helps promote good mental health. Examples include boxing, weight lifting, rope skipping and the use of a rowing machine.

Lack of Exercise; Effects on Mental Health

There’s a higher risk of depression and anxiety when exercise is not sufficient, resulting in a decrease in the release of endorphins and this tends to make you more depressed and anxious.

Exercise provides an outlet for us to release negative emotions but when exercise is not practiced, the brain tends to consistently focus on negative thoughts making it relatively difficult to see the brighter side.

There’s also a decrease in cognitive reasoning and problem solving abilities. Without the stimulation of neuropeptides and hormones, the brain feels sluggish and tired, making it difficult to muster motivation in completing your responsibilities resulting in a low level of daily reproduction.

Inability to manage and handle stressful situations effectively. There’s an increase in the level of stress hormones which has neurotoxic effects on the brain and can lead to depression.

Self confidence and Esteem sags as you may become obese and have a poor self image. You become physically weak and this has an effect on the mind, making it difficult to focus at the task in hand and also inhibiting body’s fitness.

Frequently Asked Questions

How frequently do I have to exercise to improve my mental well-being?

A minimum amount of 45 minutes, 3-5 times in a week at least, is recommended to increase the chances of benefits.

Can exercise cure mental health issues?

No, it serves as an adjunct treatment and not the primary treatment.

How do I overcome obstacles to exercise?

Think of it as a necessity for your mental well-being. Take breaks in between, go for forms of exercise you enjoy practicing and set a schedule that fits your lifestyle.

Exercise, physical activity and fitness, is there a difference?

Yes. Physical activity involves any bodily movements performed by the muscles to expand energy. This involves movements done during the day, whether intentional or not.

Exercise is a planned and structured form of physical activity done for the purpose of improving or maintaining physical fitness.

Fitness is the ability to perform activity at a moderate to vigorous level of intensity without tiring out easily.

Is one type of exercise better than the other?

No, the best type of exercises are the ones you enjoy practicing and are also willing to do consistently. There isn’t any definitive evidence that one sport is better than another.


The Importance of mental health in fitness and exercise is explained vividly, how connected they are and how the latter helps to boost mental well-being.

Physical health is as important as mental health. Do not underestimate the relevance of exercises and how much it can change your health positively.

You are capable of maintaining a great mental well-being if you are willing to stick to the best exercise method and follow through on all instructions and interventions.

Sources › pmc

Exercise for Mental Health – PMC

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