Exercise and mental health

How Exercise can Heal your Brain

Table of Contents

We firmly believe that exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself, not only physically but mentally. When you regularly exercise, you build resilience. The effects of exercise include confidence and learning that you can do hard things. Pushing yourself to your edge is so important for how you view yourself and the world and has numerous mental health benefits. 

These are some of the many reasons that we find exercise can be such a valuable part of dealing with the symptoms of mental illness.

Learning how exercise can be a treatment for mental illness can help you become more empowered. You learn that you don’t have to be a victim of your symptoms. Instead, you can tackle anxiety disorders, depressive disorder, or another mental health issue just like you deal with the challenges you face in the gym.

Along with a perspective shift, exercise creates a real change in your brain chemistry, creating beneficial effects and mental well-being. 

We’re going to break it all down and show you how exercise is going to boost mental well-being and can reduce symptoms of a mental health condition if you have one, such as moderate depression. 

How Lifestyle Changes Affect Your Mental Health

When it comes to how exercise can be used as a treatment for mental illness, it’s essential to know that physical activity should be one part of your overall strategy. You might also work with mental health professionals, participate in talk therapy, and make other shifts in your lifestyle.

Lifestyle changes, aside from exercise that are good, include:

  • Diet: The foods you eat can either fuel your brain or can increase your risk of psychiatric symptoms. For example, we’re learning how eating unhealthy and processed foods can alter the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut. Our gut links to our brain, so an unhealthy diet can contribute to worsening symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. Healthy foods, like omega-3 fatty acids on the other hand, can reduce brain inflammation and help with symptoms of mental illness.
  • Stress management: Along with incorporating the best exercises for stress and anxiety into your routine, knowing what triggers you and how to cope is vital. Stress feeds into your mental illness and can make your symptoms worse. Learn how you can cope with stress and become more resilient. Meditation is one good example of a stress management tool.
  • Sleep: You need to fuel and strengthen your body, but you also need to give it adequate rest and recovery time. Sleep is just as important in your overall wellness strategy as anything else. Prioritize healthy sleep habits. The Importance of Regular Exercise for Your Brain

Moving your body is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. You’re doing the best thing for your physical and mental health.

Even if you don’t have a mental disorder, Cardio and other types of exercise will benefit your brain.

Health benefits of exercise on the brain include:

  • When your heart rate goes up and you increase your blood flow, more oxygen can flow to your brain. That flow of oxygen then allows for more nutrient exposure in your brain.
  • Physical activity triggers a hormonal release which facilitates the ideal environment for brain cell growth.
  • With movement, you get more brain plasticity because it stimulates new connections to grow between brain cells. Some of this is because exercise induces protein release in the brain. These proteins nourish the brain cells.
  • Researchers at UCLA found exercise increases brain growth factors.

Exercise and Mental Illnesses

So, what about how exercise can be used as a treatment for mental illness specifically?

We break down some of the benefits:

Mood Enhancement

Depression is one example of a mood disorder. When you exercise, you may get a natural mood lift and can be a helpful treatment for depression. Usually, within around five minutes after you complete a moderate exercise, you should feel that boost. Exercise can increase serotonin.

Serotonin regulates not only your mood but also your appetite and sleep. Exercising can also promote brain-derived neurotrophic factors, helping neurons grow. BDNF can help improve your brain function and reduce symptoms of depression.

Research finds that 16 weeks of regular exercise is as effective as an antidepressant in older people who didn’t previously exercise.

Moderate-intensity workouts can be effective as a treatment on its own for depression that’s mild-to-moderate.

Additionally, people who regularly exercise have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than people who don’t.

Stress Relief

Above, we talk a bit about stress and how it can make symptoms of a mental illness worse. Exercising is a healthy, productive stress reliever. When you positively deal with stress, it’s going to help your symptoms of a mental illness. 

Your stress levels will decline, as will your stress hormones with even just a few minutes of exercise. Anxiety symptoms may go down and your quality of life can go up. 

Boosted Energy

One of the major side effects of most mental disorders is low energy. Low energy levels can then become somewhat of a perpetuating cycle. You may not feel like doing things in your life, and it can interfere with your motivation.

When you exercise, while it can be tough to get started, it will improve your energy levels. You might feel more motivated in other areas of your life, which can help you feel more accomplished. It then becomes a perpetuating cycle of positive changes instead of negative ones.

An exercise program boosts your energy because it increases your endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that our bodies will release when we’re doing something active.

Social Interactions

While you might work out at home sometimes, if you can get to the gym for physical exercise, it might help you see even further benefits as far as your mental health.

When you exercise with other people around or participate in group exercise programs, you’re getting the benefits of social interaction.

Social isolation is a big risk factor for mental illness, and it can lead to complications.

There’s even research that shows both real and perceived social isolation has a link with an increased risk for early death and cognitive decline. 

Better Sleep

The less sleep you get or the more off-balance your sleep schedules are, the more you’re likely to see your mental illness symptoms worsen.

Luckily, getting active in your daily routine can help you sleep better at night.

For example, in 2015, a study found people with insomnia who did at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise over a week had significant reductions in their insomnia and an elevation in their mood.


Guilt and feelings of doubt or low self-worth are common symptoms of psychiatric illnesses. Exercising can combat these feelings.

You’ll feel stronger, and physical strength tends to translate to mental strength. You’ll be setting new goals for yourself and feeling increasingly confident as you achieve them. When you achieve your goals as far as exercise, you’re more equipped to take on other things in your life.

Exercising regularly can boost your confidence and self-image too. 

Studies show that by adding regular physical activity into your routine, it’ll help your physical long term health problems and lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and heart disease, and also cut your risk of developing other chronic diseases. You’re getting the benefit of psychological well-being and better overall health.

So what should you do next? 

We’d say if you’d like to learn more about how exercise can be used as a treatment for mental illness or the best exercises for stress and anxiety, get in touch with our team. 

We’re ready to help you achieve a new perspective and attitude that’ll improve how you physically feel and your mental health at the same time. 

We work with people of all fitness levels to create an exercise routine and integrate forms of exercise that’ll work for you. Whether you want to exercise for depression or anxiety, relieve stress, look better, learn to defend yourself or your family, or just to live a better life, call 949-544-1557 Fort Fitness is here for you. 

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