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Why Exercise Is Beneficial For Your Mental Health

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

It's no secret that exercise is essential for your physical health, but it is just as crucial, if not more, for a happy mind.

Research on acute exercise revealed that 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic activity improves state anxiety and mood for several hours after completing a form of movement. In saying this, exercise may also result in detrimental changes in mental health. Some individuals can become excessively dependent on physical activity. This abuse of exercise can result in worsening health. So here is how to maintain a good relationship with physical activity while keeping it beneficial for your mental health! General findings from the research indicate that exercise is associated with mental health improvements such as mood state and self-esteem.

This is how exercise makes coach Renee (photo above) feel, especially afterward! (the equivalent to having 2 coffees she always says!)

Physical activity means any movement of your body that uses your muscles or expends energy. One of the glorious things about physical activity is that the possibilities are endless when it comes to finding what way moving your body works for you and the stage of life that you are in. Studies in the connection of mental health and exercise recommend the average adult should aim for an exercises time of anywhere between 75 -150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. This could look like brisk walking, stretch, and flow classes. Hiking or riding a bike. Or more vigorous activities such as running, barre classes, strength classes, fast swimming, or personal training sessions (depending on your current goal). Any activity that can raise your heart rate, increases your breath, and raises your temperature counts as exercise!

Impact on our mood:

Physical activity has been proven to positively impact us, as I'm sure you would have noticed once you complete an exercise class or sweaty session, you feel a burst of endorphins. A study asked a group of people to consider their mood immediately after periods of physical activity. To some people, this activity was doing housework or going for a walk, then compared it to periods of inactivity such as watching tv or being on their phone. The study showed that the participants felt more content, awake and sense of calm after the physical activity compared to the periods of inactivity. An importing finding from this research was that the mood was greatest post exercises when their mood was initially low.

Impact on stress:

The symptoms caused by stress are due to a rush of stress hormones in our body- otherwise known as 'fight or flight' the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline raise our blood pressure, increase the heart rate, increase perspiration rate, and prepare our bodies for emergency response. Being in this state can also reduce blood flow to our skin and minimise digestion activity. Cortisol- another stress hormone spikes which releases fat and sugar to boost energy. Physical movement can be effective in alleviating stress. Research completed on adults shows that highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates than less active individuals.

Impact on self-esteem:

Self-esteem is how we perceive ourselves and self-worth. This is a key indicator of our mental well-being and our ability to cope with life's everyday stressors.

Physical activity has been shown to have a very positive influence on self-esteem and self-worth. This relationship has been proven in adolescents, adults, and elderly people. Regular activity is an investment for your mind, body, and soul. Once becoming a habit it can increase your sense of self-worth and empower you to feed more strong.

Impact of depression and anxiety:

Physical activity can be used as a treatment for depression. Physical activity can also be used as a standalone treatment or in combination with medication and therapy. Studies also support that physical activity can also reduce anxiety levels in people with mild symptoms but may also help treat people with clinical anxiety.

How to get started with exercise during your mental health journey:

Many of us find it hard to find the motivation to exercise at the best of times but when you’re feeling depressed, anxious or have another mental health diagnosis it can be twice as difficult with depression robbing you of energy and motivation.

start small – when you feel yourself being weighed down by your emotions or feeling and haven’t exercised in a while setting extravagant goals might not always be what is most beneficial for you. Your beginning goal could be walking while eating your lunch on your break or allowing yourself ten minutes in the morning to stretch.

Schedule your workouts when you have the most energy – some people find they have the most energy in the morning rather than the afternoon. Or you may find that you feel more inclined to exercise longer in the weekend. Try the best you can to utilise that time as effectively as possible. (head over to the Pwr Fit website to see what class times may suit you best!)

Make exercise a social activity – exercising with a friend or being surrounded by people that you enjoy their company will not only make exercising more fun but also may help motivate you to stick to a schedule. You may find when if you are mentally suffering companionship can be just as important as exercise.

Surround yourself in a positive environment – at Pwr Fit we want to do nothing but empower women and make the studio feel like a safe place. Our friendly staff always brings good vibes but we are here to talk! We want everyone who walks through the studio doors to feel as if it’s their second home so don’t be afraid to speak out.

Reward yourself – the reward of the rush of endorphins after completing a workout can sometimes be just enough but on other days when you feel less motivated ensure you have a reward afterward. This could be like getting a delicious smoothie, treating yourself to an epic post-workout meal, taking a hot bubble bath, booking yourself in for a stretching class, or watching an extra episode of your favourite TV show.

You don’t have to force yourself into a long, momentous workout to experience the benefits of exercise. Mental health should always come before physical. Never be afraid to reach out there is always an ear close by in the PWR Fit family.

New Zealand Helplines

Parent Help – 0800 568 856 for parents/whānau seeking support, advice, and practical strategies on all parenting concerns. Anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential.

Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202 (to talk to a trained counsellor about how you are feeling or to ask any questions).

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP).

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO).

EDANZ – improving outcomes for people with eating disorders and their families. Freephone 0800 2 EDANZ or 0800 233 269, or in Auckland 09 522 2679. Or email

Raglin, J. S. (1990). Exercise and mental health. Sports Medicine, 9(6), 323-329.
World Health Organization (2015). “Physical Activity: Factsheet No. 385.” Available at:
Ekkekakis, P., Hall, E.E., Van Landuyt, L.M. & Petruzzello, S. (2000). Walking in (affective) circles: Can short walks enhance affect? Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 23 (3), 245–275.
Conn, V.S. (2010). Anxiety outcomes after physical activity interventions: meta-analysis findings. Nursing Research, 59 (3), 224–231.
Brudzynski, L. & Ebben, W.P. (2010). Body Image as a Motivator and Barrier to Exercise Participation. Int J Exerc Sci, 3 (1), 14–24.
Aylett, E., Small, N., & Bower, P. (2018). Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice – a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Health Services Research, 18(1), 559.

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