Exercise and Mental Health

on Monday, 03 July 2017. Posted in Newsletters, General Health, Training and Performance

Exercise and Mental Health

By Emily Holzberger

B.ExSS Majoring in Clinical ExPhys. Memb: ESSA

ACSA level 1 Strength and Conditioning coach, Sports Medicine Australia Sports Trainer, Level 1 Volleyball coach


Research has shown time and time again the significant influence exercise has on an individual’s mental health and well-being. Being physically active plays a major role in the prevention of mental health conditions.


Below you will see a figure demonstrating the link between physical activity and depression using the Centre of Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Individuals who performed moderate or higher levels of exercise had a much lower score than those who performed no exercise, especially for women.

For individual’s with mental health conditions, exercise is crucial in helping to manage their condition; it should go hand in hand with psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. The reason for this is because of the wide range of benefits exercise and physical activity provides:


    • High levels of subjective well-being and improvements in mood (Biddle, 2000; Sharma 2006
    • Release of endorphins and serotonin post-exercise lead to improved mood and reduced depression and anxiety symptoms (Health Direct, 2016
    • Exercise has an ‘anti-depressant effect’ (Mutrie, 2000
    • Improves self-esteem and cognitive function (Callaghan, 2004
    • Leads to improved sleep (Sharma, 2006
    • Increases energy and stamina (Sharma, 2006
    • Reduces tiredness that can increase mental alertnesss (Sharma, 2006
    • Reduction in weight which may be necessary because of the weight gain commonly associated with anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication. (Sharma, 2006
    • Provides social interactions, and allows people to build social networks and communication skills. (Peluso, 2005)


The figure below clearly outlines the phenomenal effect exercise has on people with depression. The exercise group of participants had the highest rate of recovery and the lowest rate of relapse out of the three groups.

Professor Jorm, from the Centre for Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, provides a good explanation of what often is the case for most individual’s with poor mental health;

"When people get a problem like depression or severe mental illness, it affects their motivation and enjoyment of life, and that can drive physical activity down. But there's also probably a reciprocal effect, in that when they exercise less, that seems to make [their mental health] matters worse."


This cycle can be very difficult to get out of, however by taking small steps people will be able to feel the benefits for themselves. Supervised exercise has been shown to have greater adherence rates than unsupervised sessions, especially for this population group (Courneya, et al., 2012). This may be a strategy people could use to get back into exercise.


Emily Holzberger, the Clinical Exercise Physiologist here at Institute of Sports and Spines has experience working with patients with mental health conditions. Through her experience Emily’s seen just how much exercise can do for a person’s mental health. If you think incorporating exercise into the management of your current condition or need help with motivation give her a call (3398 7022).


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