Healthy Body Healthy Mind – The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Author : Sean Connolly, Health Promotion Officer


Physical activity has shown time and time again the benefits our bodies can reap from what we sow when we engage in various forms of exercise. Better weight control, reduced risk of chronic disease, reduced risk of injury, increased energy and improved mental health and mood!
We can visually see when our weight is under control, we can feel that increased energy, we feel healthy and can show it by what we do in a physical sense.
Let’s focus on those last two points mentioned in the opening paragraph – mental health and mood. These we cannot see, yet exercise plays a huge role in enabling us to improve our mental health and mood and in turn when we feel better we are more inclined to get moving, get active so both physical and mental health go hand in hand!

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise - The science

Research has shown that exercise is a mood booster, we hear this a lot – mood booster – but what exactly is happening and why?

When we engage in physical activity we encourage and initiate chemical reactions within our brain and body. We literally open new pathways in our minds that help to reduce feelings of anxiety while promoting feelings of calm of wellbeing. We boost serotonin levels which is the chemical that reduces feelings of depression. We also release endorphins and dopamine, our “happy hormones”. The endorphin release triggers positive and energising feelings and the dopamine works as the messenger or transmitter, sending these feelings throughout the brain and body. You may have heard of “Runners High” which has been described as that euphoric feeling a runner gets during a race or in particular when they cross the finish line. Its a combination of the physical exertion they have went through and that reward of euphoria and positive energy when they cross the line! This is the result of the chemical play that occurs naturally when we get active!

Exercise also serves as an amazing way to reduce stress. It represses the bodies need to release high amounts of stress hormones such as cortisol in response to fight or flight scenarios. As we exercise we increase heart rate, our bodies become accustomed to this state which means that when high stress situations present themselves our mind and body are better prepared to deal with them.

Self-Care is not Selfish

We also develop more awareness around self-compassion and confidence. We exercise and our body not only responds internally but externally. We begin to change in a physical way, we may lose weight, tone up, build muscle – in a nutshell: we feel good about ourselves therefore our minds are in a much more healthier state than it ever was! Our new found confidence can benefit not only our personal and professional lives but it benefits those around us. Happiness is contagious, keep that in mind!


Exercise has been proven to promote a better nights sleep. When we exercise we are using a multitude of chemicals, hormones, muscles, joints and brain power. Yes, we can produce all of these naturally but we also need to be mindful that rest and recovery helps to restore the supply of these chemicals and repair the body after exercise. Sleep is required so we can continue to exercise and grow in a healthy way. Sleep forms part of the foundation as to how our body performs. It enables our internal body clock to accurately control when we are tired and we feel awake/alert (circadian rhythm).

Where to begin?

If you are beginning to exercise, my advice is to look at what you already do in terms of physical activity. Do you enjoy going for walks in the evening? Why not go for a jog in the evening! Do you enjoy the outdoors? Begin to go on hikes! Do you enjoy being sociable e.g. going for a drink or a sit down meal? Join in group training classes in which you come together to have fun while improving your overall wellbeing!

Simply look at what you enjoy doing and turn it into something you love doing. We cannot place a value on our mental health yet once we start to invest in it, the benefits and rewards will become a treasure that will continue to grow but that none of us should take for granted. Keep growing, allow health to become your wealth