HomeHealthMental HealthExercise improves mental health – fact or fiction?

Exercise improves mental health – fact or fiction?

I have a friend, Jasmine*, who has struggled with her mental health for many years. The struggles have been not just with her condition directly, but with how best to treat it.

She has always had a deep suspicion of prescription medications and has alternately taken and abandoned them over many years. Jasmine has had similar scepticism regarding exercise as being beneficial, considering it just another medical myth.

But Jasmine’s attitude to exercise’s role in mental health has changed recently. A change in circumstances has meant she now has two working dogs that require plenty of exercise.

When they get exercise, so does she. And out of the blue she recently said to me, “I get such a mental boost when I take the dogs out. The endorphins go through the roof.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that Jasmine’s mental health is the best it has been in ages. A by-product of her better mental health is a new enthusiasm for other forms of exercise. This could potentially further improve her mental health.

The truth about exercise and mental health

A link between exercise and better mental health has long been proposed, and over time many studies have supported this. A recent study aggregating the findings of more than 1000 previous trials has provided perhaps the strongest evidence yet.

Importantly, the study’s findings indicate that the type of exercise does not matter. “What we found was that basically any type of exercise is effective for improving our mental health,” says University of South Australia (UniSA) researcher Ben Singh. That includes “aerobic exercise such as walking, resistance training, Pilates, and yoga”.

Dr Singh is lead author of the study, published last year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, encompassing 97 reviews, 1039 trials and 128,119 participants. It showed that physical activity is extremely beneficial for improving symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress.

The research also found that the effects of exercise intervention were remarkably swift. Exercise interventions of 12 weeks or shorter were the most effective at reducing mental health symptoms.

“We’re confident that if physical activity interventions were adopted, we would see a definite positive impact on symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress,” says Dr Singh.

That’s not to say that exercise is a cure-all for every mental illness, but it can certainly play a key role in many cases.

“We hope this review will underscore the need for physical activity,” says Professor Carol Maher, a senior researcher at UniSA and co-author of the study. This would include “structured exercise interventions as a mainstay approach for managing depression and anxiety”.

In the real world

My friend Jasmine’s new routine is not necessarily structured in a formal timetabling sense, but there is a structure in that she will take the dogs out twice a day and get exercise when they do.

The apparent benefits of this to her are very clear to me. Exercise may not be a ‘magic bullet’ for mental health. But the evidence is strong that, for many, it may not be far from it.

*Jasmine is not my friend’s real name. I have changed it to protect her privacy.

Have you struggled with mental health issues in the past? Did you try exercise as a form of treatment, and did that work for you? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Five-minute breathing exercise better than a workout, study finds

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. I am an OAP. and find that riding a bike on the road for trips up to 3 hours twice a week definitely improves mental health. I mostly ride solo but occasionally ride in a group and that further enhances the benefits.

- Our Partners -


- Advertisment -


- Advertisment -

Log In

Forgot password?

Don't have an account? Register

Forgot password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.

Log in

Privacy Policy

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.