How Physical Exercise Helps Our Mental Health

Young woman climbing challenging bouldering route. In climbing gym

Recovery is mostly an “inside job” – but feeling good on the outside in our appearance and knowing that we are physically healthy is also of immense benefit. In fact, our outside is so often a reflection of our inside.

This is why when many people start recovery, they know they are a long way from looking their best. Perhaps they have let themselves go physically or they might not have been in the right place to dress and present themselves as well as they know they can.

Our mind, body and soul go together – because they are together! Physical exercise can be seen as a medication that helps us heal and keeps us well.

Workout for emotional well-being

During physical activity, we get a boost in both physical and mental energy. This is due to the release of endorphins, which activate the body’s opiate receptors causing an analgesic effect. This reduces stress, relieves pain, lifts our spirits, and improves our overall mood.

Exercise also stimulates the production of the body’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Research has consistently shown that people who take part in regular physical exercise – at least 30 minutes, five times a week – improve their self-esteem and increasingly gain a positive outlook on life.

Regular physical activity boosts confidence and strengthens emotional well-being, and so it is a great positive boost for mental health. It’s often said: positive motion gives us positive emotion.

In addition, exercise has been shown to improve attention span, focus, memory, and our overall cognitive capability. This is because it increases blood flow to the brain (and every other organ too), which promotes the growth of new nerve cells and enhances the brain’s ability to learn and make choices.

Sweat out the stress

Portrait of an athletic man doing exercise at the beach. Sport and healthy lifestyle concept.

Exercise can act as a natural treatment for depression and anxiety, effectively alleviating stress and tension. It allows us to sweat out the stress!

Physical activity can cause “stress hormone” cortisol levels to rise in the short term, but exercising will help to reduce overall cortisol levels especially at night, which makes for better sleep. Also, cortisol increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

This makes us less prone to certain injuries and allows us to recover from a physical injury more quickly. These are both positive things to help our emotional state as certain injuries, particularly long-term ones, are known to play a part in some anxiety, stress and depression.

Whether it’s a swim, a brisk walk, yoga, playing a sport, or a high-intensity gym session, physical exercise will help to reduce anxiety levels and enhance our overall sense of well-being. People generally feel more relaxed after physical exertion too.

Boost self-esteem

We all like to feel fitter and look healthier. Regular physical exercise will have a positive impact on body image, self-confidence and self-esteem.

Exercising will not only help us lose weight and firm up our bodies, but it will also improve the appearance of our skin and hair. Sweating clears impurities from the skin and exercising gives a boost to oxygen and nutrients to our skin cells – which is why people get that positive-looking glow after physical exertion.

Our self-esteem will also get a boost if our fitness, for instance, allows us to play more with our children, grandchildren, or a friend’s children when they ask us to join in with a soccer game or jump in the swimming pool. We will be able to do things that perhaps might have caused problems before, such as the seemingly simple task of climbing some stairs or walking up a hill.

Aiming for a fitness goal will give us a positive sense of purpose. Then, achieving that goal and seeing our progress will further boost self-confidence.

Make new friends

Fitness, gym and selfie of friends in yoga class excited for workout, exercise and training

Taking part in team sports, group classes, or going to the gym or pool gives us the chance to meet new people. Or to have fun while getting fitter with our family and friends.

Often there are shared goals in sports, which gives a sense of oneness. There will also most likely be some shared humor and camaraderie to boost mood and energy levels.

The social aspect before or after the exercise is important too, for example, meeting for a coffee or a meal. This all provides a positive boost to our social lives and our support network.

Social connection like this will have a positive impact on mental health by providing a sense of belonging and support. Having a sense of community will also help with any feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Develop other healthy habits

Physical exercise frequently goes hand in hand with developing other healthy habits. These are ideal for replacing unhealthy habits someone might have had – such as an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, but also include behavioral addictions.

Behavioral addictions include shopping, work, sex, relationships and gambling. Exercise addiction also exists, so it’s important to be aware of that when starting out on your exercise journey – especially for someone who has battled with other addiction issues.

Some people will swap an addiction and seek to counterbalance how unhealthy they have become by exercising to levels that become unhealthy. Exercise addiction can be as damaging to a person as any other addiction.

Healthy habits that come along with regular exercise include sleeping at regular times (for sufficient time) each night and eating a nutritious, balanced diet. Many people will also look to improve how they deal with stress and other negative emotions such as excessive anxiety or anger.

Together, these new daily habits help create a positive cycle for living a healthy, balanced life. This benefits not only the person developing and maintaining these habits but also everyone around them too.

Treatment at Tikvah Lake Recovery Center

Regular physical exercise has extensive all-round benefits, including helping our mental health. This is why our center has a range of facilities and activities for anyone looking to start regaining or to continue improving their physical fitness – alongside other healthy habits. 

Situated in a serene natural environment, our luxurious campus by a tranquil lake offers a perfect setting to focus on your body and mind, as well as your emotional and spiritual well-being – all in secluded privacy. Blessed with year-round Florida sunshine, you can enjoy our pool, spa, and hiking trails, in addition to the wide range of holistic therapies we offer.

Our Tikvah Lake Recovery team of experienced professionals specializes in treating a wide range of emotional and mental health concerns. With our evidence-based therapies, we aim to guide you or your loved one to swift, effective and long-lasting recovery.

Reach out to us today and start your journey towards healing the whole self.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

Reader Interactions

Leave a comment