Psychological Benefits of Exercise


Beyond Blue, the Australian initiative to raise awareness of anxiety and depression, estimates that around 45% of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety. While depression and anxiety are different conditions, it is not uncommon for them to occur at the same time. Over half of those who experience depression also experience symptoms of anxiety. In some cases, one can lead to the onset of the other (

Treatments for depression and anxiety should be managed by your doctor, but research consistently shows that physical activity can assist psychological well-being. Conversely, physical inactivity appears to be associated with the development of psychological disorders. Recent research by Mota-Pereira et al (2011) examined the effects on depression of a moderate intensity exercise program, as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy, for people with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder. The exercise program consisted of home-based 30-45 minute/ day walks on 5 days/ week over a 12 week period, with one supervised walk per week. Results indicated an improvement of all depression parameters amongst the exercise group. 21% of those in the exercise group demonstrated improvements in response as well as a remission rate of 26%. Studies in this area are continuing to explore which kinds of exercise regimes are most effective or whether benefits last after treatment is ceased. The authors suggest that, rather than thinking about exercise as a replacement for standard treatments such as anti-depressants or psychotherapy, supervised exercise regimes should be recommended as an add-on for people who are willing and able to attend.

When you exercise, the body releases a naturally occurring substance known as endorphins. These hormonal compounds act as analgesics, which mean they diminish the perception of pain and also act as sedatives. They are manufactured in your brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of your body and are released in response to brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neuron receptors endorphins bind to are the same ones that bind some pain medicines. However, unlike with morphine, the activation of these receptors by the body’s endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence (

Ref: Mota-Pereira J, Silverio J, Carvalho S, Ribeiro JC, Fonte D, Ramos J. 2011 Moderate exercise improves depression parameters in treatment-resistant patients with major depressive disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Research. Aug; 45(8):1005-11.