5 Benefits of Exercise on Brain and Mental Health

We all know that exercise promotes health throughout the body. Some of us exercise to reduce weight or improve physical fitness. Research has shown that exercise not only improves your physical health but can also improve your brain and mental health in many ways! 

Though some of you actually love physical activity and look forward to it, for many of us, exercising is a mighty drag! On days when you feel the best, it gets easier to motivate yourself to go for a run, but when you feel depressed, anxious, or stressed, it can seem difficult! 

Here’re science-backed tips to motivate yourself on the days your mental health needs exercise the most, the benefits of exercise on the brain and mental health, and how you can do it!!

Ready to take a step to consider the contribution of physical exercise to your brain and mental health? Let’s break a sweat to improve the brain and mental health!

A lot of people commonly mistake the terms physical activity for exercise. But, what is the difference one may ask?

Let’s understand the difference between physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness. 

Describes the difference between physical activity, exercise and physical fitness.

Now that you know the difference between physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness, the key focus is to ask yourself a few questions: 

  • “Am I doing this to improve my physical fitness or health?”
  • “Do I plan to do this consistently from week to week or even daily?”

If your response to both or one of the questions is NO, then the activity may not be considered as an exercise. It is a physical activity. 

If your response to both of the questions is YES, then it is most likely considered as an exercise.

Here’re the benefits of exercise on brain and mental health 

How does your mind feel after an exercise? Do you find it easier to sleep or focus? Do you feel happier?

Research suggests that physical fitness is one of the ways to boost brain health. A regular exercise routine can decrease stress on the body, improve your mental health and mood, and even enhance memory and cognition.

There’s no reason not to reap the physical and mental benefits of a regular exercise routine.

1. Anxiety and Depression

Exercise can promote changes in the brain, including neural growth, and reduce inflammation. It can also provide feelings of calm and well-being.

Research suggests that physically active individuals have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. Physical activity triggers a release of dopamine and serotonin, which can improve mood, reduce anxiety and depression.

Additionally, aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression.

2. Enhance mood

Long-term exposure to stress can be harmful to multiple systems in the body, even leading to medical concerns like high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, along with mental health conditions.

Exercise can break this cycle, as it can help in the release of endorphins in the brain, that energize your spirits and make you feel good. This in turn releases the tension in the muscle. Once your body feels better, so does your mind!

3. Sharper memory

The release of endorphins, “the feel-good hormones” can also help you concentrate and focus mindfully on the tasks at hand. Research also suggests that exercise can stimulate the growth of new brain cells and can prevent age-related decline.

4. Improve self-esteem

Following a workout routine is an investment to your mind and body. When the routine becomes a habit, it provides a feeling of self-worth and self-love. As you begin to feel better from within, you can start appreciating your appearance! 

5. Build a strong resilience 

Exercise provides a healthy way to deal with mental and emotional challenges. Instead of developing negative unhealthy choices, a regular exercise routine can boost your self-worth and help in building a strong resilience. 

How much exercise or “dose” do I need to improve brain and mental health? 

Research suggests that “thirty minutes of exercise of moderate intensity like brisk walking for 3 days a week is sufficient to improve brain and mental health. The 30 minutes can also be divided into three 10-minute walks that are believed to be as equally useful as one 30-minute walk”.

No time, add a little movement or be a weekend warrior

Research suggests that even a modest amount can make a difference. Adding a little movement goes a long way! No matter what your age or fitness level may be, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.

How to feel motivated and break a sweat when you’re anxious or depressed? 

The pie chart describes the ways steps you can take to feel motivated and exercise when you're anxious or depressed
  • Start small

Don’t start with a goal to run for a marathon. Start small, set achievable goals, and slowly build from there. 

  • Do it when you are feeling the best 

Schedule time on your calendar to exercise when your energy is the highest! It can uplift your mood and boost your energy levels. 

  • Focus on the activities you enjoy 

Any activity that gets you moving, counts! It can create a sense of purpose and accomplishment!

  • Add a little reward 

Have an extra treat after the activity. It can be a warm bubble bath, a delicious smoothie, or an extra episode on your favorite TV show!

  • Make it a social activity 

Exercise with your friends or loved ones. Companionship can help you stick to the workout routine and makes it fun and enjoyable!


Sometimes getting started with an exercise routine may sound overwhelming! Keep in mind that starting “anywhere” is better than not starting at all. If you are not sure where to begin – don’t worry much! Check out our Shapa blog on how to start a workout routine for beginners.

Exercise is one of the effective ways to manage stress and stay mentally healthy. But one important thing is to find an activity you enjoy and stick with it! 

Looking to sleep better, eat a bit healthier, move more, build a practice of self-care, or just want to feel more energy each day? Let Shapa be your virtual coach. Shapa focuses your program based on YOUR lifestyle and YOUR goals so you can build healthy habits and achieve lasting results. Learn more about the Shapa difference

About the author:

Sujatha is the study manager and content creator extraordinaire on the Shapa Health team. With a Bachelor’s in Psychology and Master’s in Clinical Psychology from India, she furthered her academic skills in Applied Behavior Analysis from Ball State University, Indiana, USA. Currently, she resides in Chandler, Arizona. She has 4+ years of expertise as a mental health professional trained in psychometrics and psychotherapy working with children, adolescents and adults. Over the past 2 years, Sujatha developed a passion for mindful living, neuroscience research, human behavior and decision making, and is driven by curiosity and gratitude. As part of the Shapa Health team she designs personalized missions utilizing behavioral science and mindfulness techniques to improve the personal health journey of the Shapa community. When not at work, she enjoys baking, hiking and spending time with family. Connect with Sujatha on LinkedIn.

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