Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health

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It’s well known that the physical and psychological benefits of exercise are an effective treatment for both acute and chronic mental illnesses. In some instances, exercise is as effective, if not more so, than some pharmacological management (1)(2).

There are many benefits of exercise on mental health, the most well-known being increased production of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which lead to improved mood and energy. Similarly, exercise can improve mental health by improving blood circulation to the brain, particularly to areas which are all significantly impacted by mental health diagnoses such as:

Limbic system (motivation and mood)

Amygdala (emotion)

Hippocampus (memory). (1)(2)(3)

Exercise similarly is evidenced to be very effective in the management of the lifestyle risk factors and chronic diseases associated with poor physical and mental health. For example, exercise assists with:

Weight control

Managing blood pressure and cholesterol

Poor sleep

Stress levels

Muscle pain



Overall cognitive functioning and mental alertness (4)

The benefits of exercise for physical and mental health

It’s well known that physical activity is essential for optimum physical health. Regular exercise supports things such as optimum cardiovascular and metabolic function and maintaining a healthy weight.

A growing body of evidence also shows how important exercise is for protecting mental health. Exercise can benefit mental health in several ways:

  1. Exercise triggers the release of ‘feel good’ endorphins in the brain.
  2. It can distract you from negative thoughts and feelings.
  3. Exercise helps you sleep better, and good sleep is crucial to good mental health.
  4. Exercising outside gives you a boost from being in nature and getting some vitamin D.
  5. If you exercise with someone, you get the benefits of social interaction.
  6. Exercise reduces sub-clinical and clinical feelings of anxiety.
  7. Exercise reduces sub-clinical and clinical symptoms of depression.

The great news is that you don’t need to spend huge amounts of time working out or spend money on fancy gear to reap the mental health benefits of physical activity. Even 10 minutes of brisk walking can help you feel more alert, energised and in a better mood.

Physical activity is simply about movement that uses muscles and expends energy. The key is finding something you like to do and making it part of your routine. Anything from pulling weeds in your garden or a stroll around the block to training for a marathon will make a difference.

benefits of exercise for physical and mental health

If you would like to improve your mental health, Active Ability’s dedicated team of exercise physiologists can visit you at home, or your workplace, gym, pool or other preferred location.

Click here if you would like to know more about how our team could help you or someone you know achieve better health and wellbeing,

Or get in touch with us on (02) 8678 7874, or via our contact form

Does mental health affect physical health

Does mental health affect physical health?

We’re well aware of the benefits of exercise on mental health, but does it work the other way around? Can mental health affect your physical health?

There are several reasons why mental health affects physical health. Firstly, people who have experienced mental illness are less likely to receive appropriate health care.

Secondly, a range of behavioural factors can also make people with mental illness more vulnerable to physical health problems. These include:

  1. smoking and harmful alcohol and other drug use
  2. poor self-care
  3. obesity
  4. poor diet

Conversely, healthy lifestyle habits such as sleeping well, eating well and exercising are vital for maintaining wellbeing.

Supporting healthy behaviours is important for everyone, but especially so for people with mental illness or intellectual disability who are more vulnerable to poor health outcomes.

Some of the more common symptoms associated with mental illness include:

  1. impaired executive functioning (the ability for informed control of behaviours),
  2. increased fatigue,
  3. lack of motivation,
  4. impaired self-care and self-management (the ability to be independent) and
  5. varying mood and energy levels.

These symptoms all lead to a reduced ability to appropriately look after one’s own mental and physical health. There is currently a 10-25-year reduced life expectancy experienced by individuals living with mental illness which occurs as a result of this.(3)(5)

For example, individuals living with a mental health diagnosis often report a higher rate of tiredness when completing physical activity and require increased rest when initiating exercise to assist managing the high fatigue and low motivation experienced as a result of their mental illness.

If not managed appropriately, this leads to decreased participation in physical activity (and therefore poorer physical health) due to feelings of exhaustion and being unable to meet exercise expectations.

In summary, yes, an individual’s mental health can severely impact their physical health, and both need to be managed conjunctively to best improve an individual’s quality of life.

 common symptoms associated with mental illness

The research linking mental and physical health 

According to Exercise Right, an evidence-based public awareness campaign run by Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA), 1 in 5 Australians will experience one or more mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar and personality disorder. (4) The effects of a mental illness significantly impact cognitive functioning, social life, work, physical activities as well as physical health. (4) 

Mental health and physical health should not be thought of, and treated, as separate components of our healthcare but rather part of the co-occurring components leading to overall quality of life. More and more research studies convey the importance of needing to maintain good physical health to ensure good mental health as well as maintaining good mental health to ensure good physical health. This is because each can negatively impact the other when not well managed. (5)(6) 

A large Western Australian study, for example, showed that the overall death rate was 2.5 times higher for people with mental illness than that of the general population. 

These studies show that poor mental health is linked to an increased risk of many chronic comorbidities such as heart and lung diseases, obesity, cancer, muscle and bone disorders and even co-occurring mental illnesses. (7)(1)  

Often this increased risk of comorbidities has been linked to various problems such as an inability to access appropriate healthcare, insufficient education, behavioural/lifestyle factors and simply the individual’s physical needs just being overlooked. (7) 

In addition to this, it’s well documented that individuals with mental health diagnoses lead increased sedentary lives when compared to their peers without mental illness. This increased sedentary time is associated with both poorer adverse mental health status as well as adverse physical health (greater lifestyle co-morbidities). (8)  

High levels of sedentary behaviour is also linked with poorer cognitive function, physical activity levels and quality of life as well as increased levels of disability, due to the poor physical health parameters associated with such behaviour. (9) 

Working within the NDIS means that Active Ability’s exercise physiologists provide exercise-based services to such a broad variety of clients who are looking for assistance to improve their quality of life through improving lifestyle behaviours, such as initiating a regular exercise routine or managing a healthy diet. Many of these clients come with questions regarding the relationship between physical exercise and mental health and the interactions between physical health and mental health. 

link between exercise and intellectual disability

The vital link between exercise and intellectual disability 

‘Mind’ and ‘body’ are often thought of as being separate. However, when it comes to mental health and physical health, the two are intimately linked. 

Poor physical health is associated with an increased risk of developing poor mental health. Similarly, poor mental health can affect physical health. For people with intellectual disability, an inability to maintain good mental and physical health can lead to significant health problems. 

Research has shown that in Australia, compared to the general population, people with intellectual disability experience: 

  • more than twice the rate of avoidable deaths 
  • twice the rate of emergency department and hospital admissions 
  • higher rates of physical and mental health conditions 
  • lower rates of preventative healthcare. 

Fortunately, work is being done towards improving the physical and mental wellbeing of the 450,000 Australians living with intellectual disability. 

Benefits of Exercise for intellectual disability

For people with intellectual disability, making healthy lifestyle choices is key to experiencing enhanced quality of life and reducing the risk for developing lifestyle-related health conditions.

In the Australian Government’s 2019 Roundtable on the Health of People with Intellectual Disability, it was noted that:

  1. on average, people with intellectual disability have about 2.5 times the number of health conditions as people who don’t have intellectual disability
  2. approximately 50% of the health conditions of people with intellectual disability are undiagnosed
  3. complexity and competing priorities result in many diagnosed conditions being inadequately managed by clinicians, and
  4. preventative healthcare needs are poorly addressed.

A great way for people with intellectual disability to be proactive about managing physical and mental health is with a safe, enjoyable exercise program that’s tailored to your needs and goals.

The team at Active Ability are highly experienced at designing and creating exercise programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities and supporting people to implement exercise into everyday life. Your program will be based on an assessment that considers your current level of function, your health, your preferences and what you’d like to achieve.

Benefits of Exercise for intellectual disability

Case Study: How exercise enhanced Suzie’s physical and mental wellbeing

Suzie is a great example. In her old neighbourhood, Suzie enjoyed walking and felt safe navigating the familiar environment. However, when she moved to a new area, Suzie lacked confidence and needed support to recommence her walking program.

Active Ability helped Suzie gain the confidence she needed to become more independent and get back into her walking program.

Suzie's Story In Her Own Words


My name is Suzie, and I am 51 years old.

I have mild intellectual disability, hypertension and need to lose some weight.

Recently I have moved to a new home and neighbourhood. At my old home I knew how to get to places really well and was very familiar with how to stay safe in my surroundings (for example, crossing the road).

Because most of my physical activity was incidental, that is, walking from place to place, when I got to my new home I stopped being active because I wasn’t confident that I would know my way around.

My goal was to start a walking program in my new neighbourhood so that I can be more physically active and independent in doing so. My walking program needed to allow me to walk daily to collect groceries from the local shops because walking for a purpose is the best kind!


That’s where my Exercise Physiologist Izzy, came in!

I love spending time walking with Izzy. We chat, laugh and have fun whenever we are together.  I always get really excited when walking past my sister’s house and also my niece’s school.

Although it hasn’t been too long, I am now able to walk for 60 minutes without a rest and I have nearly finished memorizing the route from my home to the shops and back again. I am still working on getting some of my road skills right but am excited to keep going.

Izzy says that I am absolutely lovely to work with and that she has seen great improvements with my walking. She really feels that my walking program has helped me feel closer to my new community. 

Exercise physiology helped make Suzie’s program fun

Active Ability are experts in mobile disability therapy. We see clients with intellectual disability in the comfort of their homes. Or, like we did with Suzie, we can see you in an environment that is suited to your needs and goals, such as a gym, pool or your local area.

Click here if you would like to know more about how our team could help you or someone you know achieve better health and wellbeing,

Or get in touch with us on (02) 8678 7874, or via our contact form.

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  3. Exercise and mental health. (2020). Retrieved 1 November 2020, from
  4. Mental Health and Exercise – What you need to know!. (2020). Retrieved 1 November 2020, from
  5. Huang, J., Han, B., Wan, F., & Tan, G. (2020). The Inuence of Physical and Mental Exercises on the Mental Health of Middle-Aged and Old People: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. doi:
  6. Stanton, R., & Happell, B. (2013). Exercise for mental illness: A systematic review of inpatient studies. International Journal Of Mental Health Nursing, 23(3), 232-242. doi: 10.1111/inm.12045
  7. Department of Health | Physical health. (2020). Retrieved 1 November 2020, from
  8. Hamer, M., Coombs, N. and Stamatakis, E., 2014. Associations between objectively assessed and self-reported sedentary time with mental health in adults: an analysis of data from the Health Survey for England. BMJ Open, 4(3), p.e004580.
  9. Saunders, T., McIsaac, T., Douillette, K., Gaulton, N., Hunter, S., Rhodes, R., Prince, S., Carson, V., Chaput, J., Chastin, S., Giangregorio, L., Janssen, I., Katzmarzyk, P., Kho, M., Poitras, V., Powell, K., Ross, R., Ross-White, A., Tremblay, M. and Healy, G., 2020. Sedentary behaviour and health in adults: an overview of systematic reviews. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 45(10 (Suppl. 2), pp.S197-S217.