Exercise and mental health

Exercise and mental health

It’s all very well to work with your clients to help them keep their bodies fit and healthy, but what about their minds? Regular physical activity is important to the physical and mental health of people of all ages.

Dr Nicola Burton, senior research fellow in the University of Queensland’s School of Human Movement Studies, says when it comes to exercise “we’re not only talking about preventing poor mental health or treating it, but promoting good mental health. Even if you don’t have depression, or anxiety, exercise can still enhance your wellbeing and vitality.”

“This is because exercise can boost mood, concentration, alertness, and even your propensity to look on the bright side. We’ve just done a study showing people who engage in regular exercise experience higher levels of optimism,” she said.

Exactly how exercise might boost mood isn’t well understood. Some possibilities are that it:

  • Helps you sleep better
  • Gives you an improved sense of control, coping ability and self esteem
  • Provides distraction from negative thoughts and a chance to have new experiences
  • Offers an opportunity to socialise and get social support if done with others
  • Changes the levels of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, stress hormones and endorphins (substances that can block pain and may also enhance feelings of wellbeing)

Additionally, regular training sessions provide ongoing social contact with you, the PT. People with anxiety or depression often withdraw from others, but continuing to socialise is an important part of the recovery process. A regular training session with a PT can be a vital social connection that, in itself, can increase wellbeing and confidence.

Apart from depression, exercise is not considered an established treatment for mental disorders. Nonetheless, numerous studies have shown that people who exercise regularly experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who do not exercise regularly. Both aerobic exercise (e.g. brisk walking, cycling or jogging) and resistance or strength training (e.g. weight-lifting) have been found to be beneficial for depression.

Research has shown the positive impact mindfulness has on mental health. As a trainer, you can also help your clients become more mindful when they exercise. Ask them to take five minutes when they have finished their session to notice how their body has reacted. Suggest they enjoy the endorphins now circulating through their system and feel proud of what they achieved in their session. Being present in the moment will not only improve general wellbeing, it can also help increase motivation for the next training session.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, contact:
Lifeline / 13 11 14
Beyondblue / 1300 22 4636


Exercise for mental health: a no brainer?, www.abc.net.au
Good mental health, www.womenshealth.gov
Getting help: Exercise, www.blackdoginstitute.org.au