Get Moving - The benefits of Physical Activity on Your Mood and Mental Health

Get Moving - The benefits of Physical Activity on Your Mood and Mental Health


Let’s be honest – 2020 hasn’t exactly been the most stress-free year for most of us, and whether you’re quietly getting on at home or maybe beginning to venture out into the world again, now more than ever we ALL need to be looking after both our mental and physical health.


One of the best ways to boost your mood and decrease stress is with exercise…and I know some of you may be thinking “EW no, I can’t think of anything worse” or “I’ve tried it but it doesn’t work for me”, because in the beginning exercise does seem like more work than fun, BUT as you stick at it and begin to see results you start to enjoy it and even depend on it. TRUST ME!…but if not, there’s a lot of research to back me up.


There’s an abundance of data which suggests that physical activity can relieve symptoms of mood and psychological disorders such as Anxiety, Depression, Schizophrenia and PTSD.[1]  Research suggests that exercise can also decrease stress-related blood-pressure responses (including to public speaking and assessments – so a 30-minute walk/run before an interview or exam could help to calm you down and increase performance!). This is thought to be as a result of exercise suppressing the sympathetic nervous system’s response to stress.[2] Similarly, physical activity can alleviate the symptoms of the Menstrual Cycle such as PMS.



Are you not convinced yet? Here’s a mini science lesson…when we exercise several chemical changes occur in the body.





Exercise stimulates the production of these neurochemicals. Endorphins act as a natural pain killer and pleasure booster; the overall effect is a feeling of well-being and decreases stress. TIP – Increased levels of endorphins have also be associated with relieving Menstrual cramps, especially during Aerobic workouts.




The ‘happy chemical’, it’s levels are boosted with regular exercise. This results in a more positive mood, social behaviour, appetite, digestion, memory, sexual function and sleep cycles. The Serotonin deficiency theory of Depression indicates that low levels of serotonin are linked to experiencing symptoms of Depression. Other imbalances in levels of serotonin have been linked to conditions such as OCD, Anxiety and Anger Management concerns.[3]




Routine exercise regulates the body’s levels of adrenaline. While playing a vital role in the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, persistently high levels of adrenaline from chronic stress increase the likelihood of further symptoms of Anxiety and Depression. It also increases the risk of heart disease and weight gain.




Cortisol is produced when the body is under stress. It functions to increase heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose levels and curb non-essential functions during a ‘fight or flight’ response (such as reproductive and digestive systems). Prolonged high levels of cortisol can cause tissue breakdown, damage organs, reduce protein synthesis and increase abdominal fat. People who suffer from Anxiety disorders or chronic stress often experience elevated levels of cortisol.


Now the effect of exercise on cortisol is a little more complicated. Exercise is initially perceived as physical stress on the body; therefore, cortisol is released as a response to high intensity or prolonged exercise. Studies have shown that cortisol levels are higher in endurance athletes.[4] As your body becomes used to the physical stress, less cortisol will be released (consistency is key!)


Ways to reduce cortisol levels when exercising:


  • Take long enough, rest breaks. Short high-intensity exercise such as HIIT, sprints or weight training causes less of an increase in cortisol levels. Still, these levels increase with insufficient rest breaks and when you are nutritionally depleted.
  • EAT. Fuel your body before you train and remember to refuel after exercising with carbs and protein to decrease the effects of cortisol.
  • Leave intense sessions until later in the day. Cortisol levels are naturally higher in the morning. The response to exercise increases these levels further.[5]




Takeaway Points - Some of the BEST ways to improve your mood and mental health with exercise:
  • The type of exercise:
    • Studies show all forms of exercise improve cognitive function.
      • Although…
    • Aerobic/cardiovascular exercise is most associated with a positive result in combatting mental health-related issues and reducing symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle. Higher levels of endorphins are released with aerobic exercise.
    • Yoga – while in most instances (other than active flow/vinyasa classes) is not a particularly aerobic workout, can teach you how to relax through breathing and movement techniques and improve feelings of well-being. A Taiwanese study also linked yoga with decreasing abdominal swelling, breast tenderness and abdominal cramps in women.[6]
  • Exercise in a group:
    • Social settings can boost your mood: ‘Emotional Contagion’ – when you spend time with happy people, you feel happier.[7] Planning to exercise with friends will keep you motivated! You’re more likely to show up and get it done if other people are counting on you too.
  • Consistency:
    • As we mentioned before, ensuring a hormone balance which promotes positive moods comes from regular exercising.
    • As you begin to see positive results (whatever your goals are: weight loss, weight gain, strength, flexibility etc. etc.), you will start to feel more confident and positive about your image.
    • TOP TIP – The best type of exercise is the one YOU can stick at! Whether this is one variety or a few, you need to find a balance that keeps you interested and enthusiastic about exercising. Similarly, if one routine is getting boring and you start slacking think about changing it up to keep yourself motivated.
Hope this helps and got you thinking…now GET MOVING!!!
Lots of Love



[1] Bartholomew, J.B., et al. (2005). Effects of acute exercise on mood and well-being in patients with major depressive disorder. Medical Science Sports Exercise, 37(5), 2032-2037; Heggelund, J., et al. (2014).High aerobic intensity training and psychological states in patients with Depression or Schizophrenia. Front Psychiatry, 5, 148; Knapen, J, et al. (2009), State Anxiety and subjective well-being responses to acute bouts of aerobic exercise in patients with Depressive and Anxiety disorders. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(10), 756-759.
[2] Brownley, K. A. et al. (2003). Sympathoadrenergic mechanisms in reduced hemodynamic stress responses after exercise. Medical Science Sports Exercise, 35(6), 978-986.
[3] Kerr, C. (1994), The Serotonin Theory of Depression, Jefferson Journal of Psychology, 12(1), Article 4.
[4] Skoluda, N, et al. (2012), Elevated hair cortisol concentrations in endurance athletes. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(5), 611-617.
[5] Basso, J.C. et al. (2017) The effects of acute exercise in mood, cognition, neurophysiology, and neurochemical pathways: A Review. Brain Plasticity, 2(2), 127-152.
[6] Tsai S. Y. (2016). Effect of Yoga Exercise on Premenstrual Symptoms among Female Employees in Taiwan. International journal of environmental research and public health. 13(7), 721.
[7] Totterdell, P. (2001). Catching Moods and Hitting Runs: mood linkage and subjective performance in professional sports teams. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 848-859.

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