How Does Physical Activity Affect Mental Health?

Katie LairdPsychotherapy

Regular exercise can have a significant impact on mental health, including the following benefits:

  • Reduce depression and anxiety– We all know that exercise provides a boost in endorphin levels, creating those “feel good” chemicals that produce feelings of happiness and euphoria. Many doctors recommend trying exercise for anxiety and depression prior to prescribing medication. Exercise also decreases cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. 
  • Create a buffer against stress– Physical activity may be linked to a lower physiological reactivity toward stress, which means stress will not be experienced as intensely in your body. 
  • Better sleep– Physical activity increases the amount of time you spend asleep overall, and the amount of time you spend in slow wave sleep, which is the most restorative stage of sleep. Older adults who exercise regularly may find that they sleep more efficiently, spending more time in bed asleep, as opposed to tossing and turning. Adolescents who participated in a 12 week exercise program spent more time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a sleep stage linked to cognitive performance. 
  • Improve self-esteem– Regular exercise can build confidence by improving our body image. It can make us feel better about our physical appearance by strengthening and toning the body, and seeing these results can make you feel better about the way you look. It can also provide a sense of accomplishment; as you physically get stronger, you will be able to do more than you could before. 
  • Prevent cognitive decline– Research shows that people who are physically active are less likely to see a decline in cognitive functioning and have a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, aerobic exercise has been found to increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is linked to memory and learning.,the%20size%20of%20the%20hippocampus%20.