Workout articles, healthy lifestyle tips, and fitness advice.

9 Benefits of Exercise on Your Mental Health (Plus 3 Ways to Start Where You Are)

exercise and mental health


While it may be obvious that exercise can improve your physical health, many people don’t realize the fantastic mental health benefits of exercise that are also available. 

If you’re not yet clear on how fitness can impact your mental health, let’s unpack 10 benefits of exercise on mental health (some of which you can expect to see within just a few weeks of regular movement).


Top 9 Mental Benefits of Exercise

The easiest way to understand why exercise benefits our mental health is to remember that the brain is a muscle like any other. Now, picture your brain on exercise. It’s a grab bag of happy hormones—dopamine, endorphins, and endocannabinoids, to name a few—all of which reduce stress levels, induce that post-workout high, regulate heart rate and blood pressure, and more

But what does that mean for your mental health? It means regular exercise is good for the brain, which in turn is good for the body.

Here are the top 9 ways exercise boosts mental health:

  1. Reduces Stress. Those “happy” hormones mentioned above? They counteract the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone responsible for your “fight or flight” response that some doctors call Public Enemy Number One against mental health. By exercising regularly, you can encourage the release of endorphins and dopamine, thereby mitigating general distress.
  2. Improves Depression Symptoms. A study conducted at Duke University concluded that regular exercise could reduce symptoms of depression by as much as 70 percent. In many cases, researchers found that exercise can also replace or reduce antidepressant medication. 
  3. Higher Quality of Sleep. When your body is tired, you sleep better. Plain and simple. Exercise helps work and tire your muscles, leading to improved sleep over time. More science here
  4. Builds Self Esteem. Another mental health benefit of exercise is building confidence and self-esteem, allowing you to learn new skills and make new friends more easily.
  5. Healthier Thinking. The more time you spend in your body, the less you get stuck in negative thought patterns. Regular exercise helps improve ruminating thoughts and other symptoms of anxiety. 
  6. Improved Cognition. The CDC notes that regular exercise can improve brain function, especially in children, which is one of the many reasons why physical education is part of public school curriculum.
  7. Lowers Risk of Disease. Since regular exercise lowers the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer, you can breathe easy knowing you’re doing what you can to live a long and healthy life. 
  8. Increased Energy Levels. While it seems contradictory, it’s true. Regular physical activity builds stamina, increasing energy levels throughout the day.
  9. Better Quality of Life. When your heart rate elevates, and blood pumps throughout your body, your brain releases chemicals like the ones mentioned above, making you happy. This ultimately can lead to a better quality of life.

3 Simple Exercises to Improve Mental Health Today

Overall, even a little weekly exercise is a healthy way to occupy the brain and care for the body. This is especially important in a sedentary lifestyle, which is so common nowadays. If you’re ready to access the many mental health benefits of exercise, it’s easy to get started. 

You can begin right where you are! We’ve picked three simple exercises to boost mental health and relieve stress immediately. 

Plus, they’re accessible for beginners:

1. Sitting Stretch Break

You can practice this one wherever you are. Sitting in a chair, place your feet firmly on the floor. Stack your vertebrae slowly, bringing the chin parallel to the ground and slightly tucked. 

From this effortless place, begin to notice the breath in and out through the nostrils. When ready, drop your right ear to your right shoulder. Lowering the head back easily, take ten neck rolls in each direction—inhaling across the back, exhaling across the front. Next, breathe slowly and evenly through 10 shoulder, wrist, and ankle rolls in both directions. This can take anywhere between 3 and 10 minutes. 

Complete this exercise by dropping the upper body over the legs and draping the arms toward the floor. Take ten deep breaths. Come to a seated position again slowly and continue your day, more embodied, grounded, and ready to face the challenges that come your way.

2. Therapy Ball Chair

For less than $20, you can have a therapy ball chair arrive at your home or office by noon tomorrow. Probably. And replacing your desk chair or sofa with one, even for one hour a day, can be beneficial. Your posture naturally improves, and your abdominal muscles stay lightly engaged throughout the day, building strength and balance. 

But if you get a therapy ball chair (also known as a balancing chair, stability, or yoga ball chair), clear it with your doctor or a physical therapist first, especially if you have any previous back injuries. 

3. Try a Standing Desk 

The most dramatic change you could make involves a new desk set up entirely—or at least a desktop accessory to raise your working surface. Although studies aren’t conclusive in the full effects of using a standing desk to boost mental health, it burns a few more calories an hour and improves posture, leading to better spinal strength and health over time. 

You can also access the mental benefits of exercise by taking the easier option: a half-hour walk outdoors at lunch only a few times a week. If half an hour sounds too overwhelming, don’t worry! You could break the activity into shorter periods throughout the day without any deficit to the benefits received. 

The National Library of Medicine confirms this, saying, “Thirty minutes of exercise of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking for three days a week, is sufficient for these health benefits. Moreover, these 30 minutes need not to be continuous; three 10-minute walks are believed to be as equally useful as one 30-minute walk.” 


FREE On-Demand Workouts for All Levels

If you’re ready to see a myriad of benefits from exercise, on your mental and physical health, Planet Fitness is a great place to begin. Planet Fitness is the Judgement Free Zone(r) for folks of all fitness experience levels. Show your brain some love and get started now with tons of free workouts on the PF App.