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Does exercise help your mental health?

When you are not feeling your best emotionally, it can often be easy to forget to look after yourself not only mentally but physically. Exercise Physiologist Kirrily Gould shares some tips for incorporating movement and activity into the treatment of mental illness.

There is mounting evidence that demonstrates exercise is key to maintaining good mental health.

In the past, there has been a tendency to focus on treating the mind – not the mind and body as a whole. However, research shows that treating the mind and body has significant improvements in mental health symptoms.

If you experience mental illness you may also experience poor physical health which, in turn, can impact your mental health.

The good news is that exercise can help you feel better emotionally and physically.

St John of God Health Care exercise and mental health

Benefits of exercise for mental health

Research shows regular exercise has many benefits to physical and mental wellbeing, including:

  • improved sleep
  • better self-esteem and confidence
  • bringing a sense of achievement
  • providing opportunities to experience new activities and socialise
  • changes in the chemicals released in your brain which help you feel better
  • improved mood
  • increased energy
  • helping you manage weight, which can be particularly important if side-effects of medications lead to weight gain
  • improved thought and memory
  • helping manage anxiety.

So how to start exercising?

If you aren’t an active person, the idea of starting to exercise at a gym or taking up sport can be a bit overwhelming.

That is why my first tip is to get moving – start small, such as:

  • go for a short walk
  • take the stairs instead of the lift
  • do some gardening or house work. 

Once you are more comfortable, or if you are an active person already, you can then start to participate in more activities.

Aim to exercise for 20 to 30 minutes each day

Make exercise a part of your routine, do it three times a week and do something you love. Exercise shouldn’t be a chore and you will quickly see the benefits start to flow into your mental health.

I also recommend setting goals so you can work towards an achievable outcome – that goal could be weight-loss, a strength milestone, a fun run or even just a time commitment.

Some of the exercises that might work for you include:

  • gym-based cardio – treadmill, cross-trainer, boxing, rowing
  • resistance training – free weights, squats, weight machines, resistance bands , body weight
  • group exercise classes
  • sports.

And if you get bored, you can always try something new.

So go out and have some fun. Because something small is better than doing nothing at all. 

St John of God Health Care Kirrily Gould
Kirrily Gould Exercise Physiologist

About the Author

Kirrily Gould is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist who works at St John of God Richmond and Burwood hospitals. She is completing a Masters by Research at the University of New South Wales investigating exercise effects on drug and alcohol disorders. As an Exercise Physiologist, Kirrily aims to educate and facilitate lifestyle change and implement exercise interventions to people with a prevalent health condition, with interest in using exercise as an adjudicative treatment within mental health rehabilitation.