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Managing your mental health with exercise


It has been said, that if the benefits of exercise could be put into a pill, they would call it a wonder drug. And why shouldn’t it deserve such a lofty title. Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, assist in the management of a healthy weight, lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce the risk of developing diabetes and some cancers, and strengthen bones, muscles and joints.


But what about the psychological effects of exercise? Several studies have been conducted to investigate the effects of exercise on mental health, particularly its effects on depressed mood, anxiety, and mood enhancement. And so, what do these studies suggest?



Exercise has been shown to have anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects, to reduce depressed mood, help in the management of anxiety, to improve body-image and generally enhance mood. The Black Dog Institute state the exercise can prevent the onset and development of depression. Exercise also has many cognitive benefits including contributing to improved academic achievement, improvements to learning and memory, and the prevention of cognitive decline in the future (e.g. reduced risk of developing dementia).


In addition to the physiological and psychological benefits of exercise, there are many additional secondary psychological benefits to exercise. This includes increased social engagement and social connections, distraction from stressors and worries, and improved sleep. Exercise also supports positive mental health by reducing our risk of developing illness and disease. Illness and disease can lead to a range of poor mental health outcomes, and so to keep these at bay through exercise future proofs our mental health for the years to come.



Often the hardest part about exercising is getting started. Here are some tips to help you get started on your path to a healthier you:

  • Start small. Set small, achievable goals and work up from there. We develop a self of self-efficacy and competence when we’re successful in reaching our goals, which motivates us to continue and persist with our efforts.
  • Start an exercise regime with a friend. Having someone on board with you, with similar goals, means you can motivate each other and keep each other accountable.
  • Get advice. If you’re worried about your health or have a health concern, you can consult with your GP before you commence exercising. If you’re not sure how to go about starting a new activity, talk to a professional, whether that be a personal training, having a few swimming lessons at a swimming school, or enrolling in a beginner’s class of yoga or Pilates.
  • Avoid unrealistic goals. Don’t expect to run a marathon on your second week of starting your exercise regime. If we set unrealistic goals that we ultimately fail to achieve, pessimism can set in and motivation can drop.
  • Let your friends and family know about your exercise goals. When we let others know about our intentions, we’re more likely to stick to our plan. If we don’t tell anyone, its all too easy to let our goals slip, because hey, no one knew about our plan anyway.

For advice on psychological treatments for depression and anxiety, MHM Psychology can be contacted on 1300 848 072.