MOVE, EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T WANT TO - Why exercise is great for your mental health


There are so many physical benefits to exercise including stronger muscles, reduced blood pressure, weight management, improved heart and lung efficiency, yet the most important being reducing risk of developing serious physiological and psychological health conditions. 

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Depression is defined as mood state characterised by feeling sad, discouraged and unhappy causing sleep disturbances, fatigue, poor concentration, appetite changes, increased pain perception and feelings of worthlessness. The most common treatment method prescribed is an anti-depressant medication. However, many people do not respond to antidepressants or experience individualised side effects. For this reason, non-pharmacologic options are being utilised and one of these is exercise as it is found to be extremely good for your mental health.

People who have depression are likely to have brain chemistry changes. Exercise provides that ‘feel good’ feeling by stimulating the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Raising these brain chemical levels plays an important part in regulating mood, relieving pain, managing stress and enhancing overall sense of well-being. In addition, exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus within the brain, improving nerve cell connections, which regulates mood, helps form new memories and assists with learning and emotions whilst reducing depressive symptoms. This improvement in brain function helps to make you feel better. 

Exercise has been proven to:

  • Improve memory and thinking – exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells which helps to improve concentration and problem solving

  • Better sleep when you get high-quality sleep, you feel more refreshed during the day. Exercise can help to regulate your sleep patterns.

  • More Energy - Exercise enhances endorphins release that contribute to that feeling of euphoria commonly known as ‘runners high’. 

  • Higher self-esteem – Exercise allows you to set short and long goals, whether that’s increasing from a 5 to 15 minute walk or lifting a heavier weight. This can help with self-worth, self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment. In addition, exercise can help with your appearance through development of strength and weight management

  • Improve heart health - Exercise boosts your cardiovascular health and endurance throughout the day. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system

  • Provides an outlet - When faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, exercise can help you cope in a healthy way, providing a positive outlet for you to reduce the impact of stress, frustration or negative emotions. 

So how much exercise do you need?

Exercise is not a one-time fix, it’s a long term treatment and consistency is key. Even just a few minutes of physical activity daily is better than 1 hour every three days or none at all. Choose an exercise or a way of moving your body that you enjoy - walking, running, cycling, pilates, stair climbing, going to the gym, doing squats in the lounge room, whatever it is you enjoy, give it a go and keep at it. 

If you are experiencing any depressive symptoms, please speak with your doctor about ways to help or visit this link for useful helplines and websites:

If you would like to begin exercising in a gradual and tailored way individualised to your health needs and goals, please click here to book in for an initial assessment with our Exercise Physiologist, or call us on 5333 2232 to discuss. 

It’s okay not to be okay!


Callaghan, P. (2004). Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care? Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 11(4), 476–483.

Deslandes, A., Moraes, H., Ferriera, C., Veiga, H., Silveira, H., Mouta, R., Popeu, F., Coutinho, E.S.F., & Laks, J. (2009). Exercise and Mental Health: Many Reasons to Move. Neuropsychobiology, 59(4), 191-8.

Havard Health Publishing, (2018). Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression. Retrieved from

health & lifestyleMegan May