Exercise for improving your mood and mental health

How does the health of people in northern Queensland compare to the rest of Australia?

Almost two in three of people in the region are overweight or obese, five per cent higher than the national average. Fewer than one in ten get their daily recommended intake of veggies. And one in six are daily smokers, two per cent higher than the Queensland average.[1]

The common answer to getting healthy is to get regular exercise. We all know that exercise is good for you because it improves your physical health. But did you know that exercise has been shown to help with mental health?


Mental health benefits of exercise

Many of us know from our own experiences that we feel better after exercising. Some experts think that one of the physiological benefits of exercise is in the way it changes our endorphin and serotonin levels. Endorphins can lift your mood while serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can regulate mood, appetite, digestion, memory and sleep. That said, even though most people agree that exercise does improve mood, there is still debate about exactly how exercise affects mood.


Exercise and depression

Does exercise help depression? While there is no definitive answer, several studies did specifically look at the relationship between exercise and depression. One 2017 international study led by the Black Dog Institute looked at the relationship between exercise and depression. It suggested that even one hour a week of exercise can protect against depression. The organisation analysed the exercise levels and depression symptoms of nearly 34,000 people and found that 12 per cent of depression cases could have been prevented with small amounts of exercise[2].

While referring to vigorous physical activity as “anti-depression exercises” may be a stretch, people diagnosed with severe depression may find that the effects of exercise may help alleviate depression symptoms alongside other treatments.


Additional benefits of exercise for mental health

There are other ways that exercise can help improve your mental health and wellbeing.


1) Exercise helps anxiety

It provides a healthy distraction to break a cycle of negative worries and thoughts.


2) Psychological benefits of exercise and being more optimistic

Regular exercise can provide positive mental health effects. For example, one study from the University of Queensland suggested that people who get regular exercise have higher levels of optimism. The exercise boosted the participants’ mood and tendency to look on the bright side.


3) Social benefits of exercise

Regular exercise can place you among other people, reducing loneliness and social isolation.


4) Exercise affects mood

It can help grow your self-esteem as you take control of your wellbeing.


5) Exercise and sleep

The effects of exercise can help you get a better night’s sleep. Like the overall link between exercise and depression, the exact relation between the two is still debated.


How much exercise is recommended?

For adults aged 18 to 64, the Department of Health recommends being active on most days of the week. The department suggests starting with two and a half hours of moderate physical activity a week and increasing it to five hours. Or one and a quarter hours of vigorous activity that increases to two and a half hours each week.


What is the best exercise for mental health?

The best exercise for mental health is… to do exercise… and then to keep doing regular exercise. If you aren’t doing any exercise at the moment and want to start, try doing a little and then steadily build up. It doesn’t have to be extremely vigorous.  That’s because any physical activity is always better than doing nothing at all.


Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.


[1] Northern Queensland PHN, Health Needs Assessment, June 2016. https://www.primaryhealth.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/NQPHN-Health-Needs-Assessment-June-2016.pdf. Accessed 03.08.2018.

[2] Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study. Samuel B. Harvey, F.R.A.N.Z.C.P., Ph.D., Simon Øverland, Ph.D., Stephani L. Hatch, Ph.D., Simon Wessely, F.R.C.Psych., M.D., Arnstein Mykletun, Ph.D., Matthew Hotopf, F.R.C.Psych., Ph.D.