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How Does Exercise Impact Mental Health?

Author: Nura McCormick

Editor: Fahad Hassan Shah

Graphic of coronavirus with COVID-19 text overlay.
Image Credit: Arek Adeoye (Unsplash)

Everyone feels some level of stress, anxiety, or depression at some point in their lives in varying levels of severity, whether it be due to school or home life. Although it can be said that a little bit of stress is good in order to keep one’s mind focused, too much of something is never beneficial, and so mental health can sometimes take a toll on someone in consequence. Various solutions, such as medication or therapy, have been developed for these problems, but something much simpler is found to greatly influence and improve mental health- exercise.

That well-known calming and satisfying feeling after exercise is due to chemicals like endorphins and serotonin, which improve one’s mood and reduce feelings of loneliness and sadness. In turn, exercise reduces anxiety, depression and it is proven to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, exercise has been shown to treat mild depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, running for just fifteen minutes a day lowers the risk of depression by 26%. This intervention not only reduces mental issues but also boosts dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels in the brain, leading one to be more focused. Therefore, the mechanism of action of doing exercise is very similar to Attention Deficient Hyper Disorder (ADHD) medications such as Adderall and can have just as positive effects, without any adverse consequence. Additionally, blood is pumped to the brain during exercise, causing one to think more clearly. The size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, increases. This is especially helpful for stressing students studying for a test because they are more likely to retain and remember the information. It also promotes neural growth, reduced brain inflammation, and new activity patterns in the brain that give way to happy and content feelings. Also, exercise serves as a distraction from one’s problems and offers a stress-free break from one’s work or personal life. As stress can often cause one to tense up, this can lead to shoulder and back pain, or painful headaches. However, physical activity forces one to get their body in motion and free him/herself of all tensions. If the body is relaxed, the mind will be as well. Other positive influences of exercise are higher self-esteem, better and deeper sleep, and stronger resilience- both mentally and physically.

Exercise has time and time again shown to improve one’s mental health in so many different ways. Anyone that wants to make a change to their mental or physical health should start exercising regularly. Although some people might think it is too much work to exercise frequently, they will soon find that exercise yields only positive results, leading them to be a happier and healthier person.


Exercise and mental health. (n.d.). Retrieved from

The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. (2019, November 13). Retrieved from


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