How can exercise boost your mood?

26 Jun, 2018

There is a lot of research and evidence that exercise can be a great treatment for mood-related disorders and anxiety.

There is now evidence suggesting regular exercise can help prevent the development of depression, which is good news for those with a family history of depression, or those concerned with showing signs of depression.

A recent study which included researchers from The Black Dog Institute, UNSW Sydney and Western Sydney University’s NICM Health Research Institute, looked at data from 49 studies across the world and found that physical activity can reduce risk of depression in all ages and geographical locations. The research looked predominantly at long term studies over seven to eight years which aligns with previous evidence that reports exercising over the long term are most beneficial. Dr Firth from the University of Western Sydney explained that 150 minutes per week was associated with a 22% reduction in the risk of depression, but <150 could also be beneficial to a lesser extent.

How does it work?

You might ask how exercise can help with depression, well the simple answer is it’s our own chemistry. You may have heard of ‘runners high‘. Or even experienced or have witnessed the smiley faces at the end of a 10km running event, even when they are all absolutely exhausted. This is because during physical activity, not only are we pumping more blood and oxygen to our brains, but we are releasing endorphins which are the body’s own natural antidepressants. Our brains also release a neurotransmitter called serotonin, and research has shown that there are links between low levels of serotonin and a diagnosis of depression.

The Benefits

Regular exercise, increased levels of serotonin and endorphins have been shown to help the following symptoms of depression:

  • Increasing energy levels,
  • Improving sleep,
  • Distracting from worries,
  • Providing social support and reducing loneliness if exercise is done with other people,
  • Increasing a sense of control and self-esteem allows people to take an active role in their own wellbeing.

Where do I start?

Getting started with a new exercise program can be challenging, but the best thing to do is keep it simple. Exercise and Sports Science Association (ESSA) recommends beginning exercise by following the National Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults and Older Australians. The guidelines are;

  • A minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most, preferably all days of the week. An example of ‘moderate intensity’ exercise is brisk walking, where a slight increase in breathing and heart rate is noticeable.
  • Exercising for at least 10 minutes at a time – the 30 minutes total does not need to be continuous. Short sessions of different activities can be combined to make up 30 minutes of exercise or more each day.
  • Being active in as many ways as possible each day (e.g. using the stairs instead of a lift).

Tips for exercising and staying consistent

Choose a form of exercise you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be sweating it up in the gym. Go outdoors! Whether you enjoy walking, running, swimming or cycling. Being outside can be a great mood-lifting activity in itself.

Make a plan, exercise with a friend, join a team or even seek an accredited exercise physiologist to help you with your mental health and physical activity journey.

At Gen Physio, we have a friendly team of professionals dedicated to changing our clients’ lives. All our clinicians are mobile and come to your own home to conduct an examination. Give us a call on 1300 122 884 to book a consultation today.

Alternatively, if you would like to speak with someone confidentially, you can contact:

Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36


Schuch, Felipe B., et al. “Physical activity and incident depression: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.” American Journal of Psychiatry (2018): appi-ajp.

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