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Building Independence / Families/Carers / Health and wellbeing / Social Inclusion

How exercise improves mental health

By Jennifer Lumsden, February 21 2019

The beginning of a new year is a great time to pay some attention to healthy habits. What about healthy habits to get our mental health in good shape?

What is mental health?

Mental health is about our sense of wellbeing. Having balance mental health helps us to cope with everyday stresses of life, work productively, have meaningful interactions and be part of the community.

How can you obtain strong mental health?

There is growing research showing that exercise is effective in strengthening our mental health.

When you exercise

• More blood is pumped to the brain.
• The part of the brain responsible for memory increases.
• The brain releases endorphins and serotonin improving our mood and positive feelings.
• Sleep improves.
• We relax more and stress is reduced.
• The risk of diabetes and heart disease reduces.

The reality is too many of us do not do enough physical activity.

We have probably all said ‘I like the idea of exercise but I am too unfit, too busy or too tired to exercise. I have tried before and failed.’
Are you waiting to feel motivated? Don’t – make a start and commit to it, motivation will follow.

How do I get started?

1. List 3-4 reasons why exercise will benefit you – see the list above and add your own. Keep the list close and remind yourself regularly of the benefits.
2. Choose an activity you enjoy and can easily do, for example, walking is great and is low cost.
3. Set goals and monitor progress, this motivates.
4. Start small – if you have been inactive, start with a 10 minute walk every day or try getting off a few stops before your regular bus stop.
5. Make it part of your routine – exercise at the same time every day, get your clothes ready or bag packed, reducing the need for a decision ‘will I exercise today or not?’, it builds habit.
6. Join with a friend and make a commitment to continue.
7. If you stop, just start again and do not beat yourself up.

Try it outdoors

The Monash Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry found that outdoor exercise increased energy and decreased anger, stress and depression when compared with exercising indoors. So when you can, exercise outdoors.
How much exercise? The Australian government recommends adults do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. 30 minutes can include combining shorter periods of exercise such as 10–15 minute sessions.

Did you know one in every five people experience a mental illness during their lifetime?

Mental illness includes anxiety, depression as well as other conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder and personality disorders. Exercise can help prevent episodes of mental illness and assist in recovery.

What do we mean by exercise?

Any physical activity that gets your body moving that makes you breathe a little quicker and your heartbeat a little faster is great.
You can be physically active in many ways during the day such as gardening, cleaning the house, walking for short trips instead of using the car or getting off a few stops from your bus stop. Consider checking first with your GP if you have been inactive for a while or have chronic health conditions.

Give it a go and feel the difference

When that afternoon sluggishness sets in around 3pm and you feel tired and stressed, instead of reaching for unhealthy snacks, like chips and soft drinks, take a walk instead. Listen to music, meet a friend, reach for a healthy snack and get outdoors. You will feel the benefits!
Exercise makes a big difference to our mood and stress levels and with positive mental health, we are more effective at work, have more meaningful relationships and can enjoy everyday living a lot more.

Now is a good time to make positive changes for a healthier future.

Exercise outdoors for added benefits

Get out doors.


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