Top 10 Benefits Of Exercise For Mental Wellbeing And Health

Being active has been shown to have many health benefits, both physically and mentally.

Exercise offers incredible benefits that can improve nearly every aspect of your health from the inside out.

Before we get into the evidence-based benefits from exercise, how did exercising and 'running' became such a common healthy pastime? 

I had recently picked up the autobiography of the creator of Nike, Phil Knight, called 'Shoe Dog'.

There is a particular paragraph about the beginnings of recreational “jogging” that immediately caught my attention (while making me laugh).

Here’s the excerpt:

“... in 1965, running wasn’t even a sport. It wasn’t popular, it wasn’t unpopular—it just was. To go out for a three-mile run was something weirdos did, presumably to burn off manic energy. Running for pleasure, running for exercise, running for endorphins, running to live better and longer—these things were unheard of.”

What’s stranger than this was how the world slowly caught on to the idea of jogging and exercising for fun. And soon, it became the cool thing to do.

So cool in fact, even famous celebrities were jumping in on the nationwide craze… as can be seen in People Weekly’s July 4, 1977 front cover photo.

People magazine benefits of exercise

It's strange to think that something we now consider as completely normal was once seen as quite the crazy phenomenon. As now we know a bit of physical activity might just be the most important thing you can do to keep your body and brain in great shape.

If exercising was a drug – we would say the effects were just way too good to be true! It keeps us smarter, happier, feeling healthy and helps to keep us living longer lives. In fact, In a study done on over 1 million young healthy adults, people found exercise raised their IQ [1] 

“Exercise seems to be good for practically every function in the brain and body”

- Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology at The University of California. Los Angeles.

Anyone who’s felt a “runner’s high” — or just felt a bit better after the gym — has experienced the way exercise elevates neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, which are critical for regulating mood, motivation, and feelings of reward and pleasure. It also reduces the stress hormone, cortisol. But physical exercise does so much more…

The benefits of exercise backed by science:

  1. Exercise helps with decision making, speeds up reaction times, upgrades mental energy, promotes creativity, enhances memory and improves concentration! [2]  [3] [4]  [5]  [6]  [7]  [8] 
  2. It boosts attention, learning, memory and mental processing speed. [9]  [10]  [11] 
  3. Being physically active for 2.5 hours a day can improve sleep quality by 65%! That’s like turning a quick 5hr sleep into the quality of a 8 and a quarter hour doze!! [12] 
  4. Exercising helps to make you happier, both now and in the long term. [13]  [14] 
  5. Working out can help you control your emotions, shake off bad moods, and become more emotionally intelligent and resilient.[15]  [16]  [17] 
  6. It can lessen stress and anxiety and can even reduce depression[18]  [19]  [20] 
  7. It can boost energy; reduce feelings of fatigue and make you feel more enthusiastic and motivated [21]  [22]  [23] 
  8. Improves self-esteem and libido to make you feel good, look good, and want to get jiggy with it! [24]  [25]  [26]  [27] 
  9. Upregulates production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – an amazing protein that stimulates new brain cell formation and more brain power. [28] 
  10. Increases the brain chemicals which make you feel good (serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine) while reducing the stress hormone (cortisol). [29]  [30] 


“What type of exercise is best for my brain?” I can hear you asking!

Most of the research has been done on moderate aerobic exercise like jogging, but recent evidence suggests that weightlifting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are good for you too.

People who experience the biggest gains in their fitness often have the biggest cognitive changes as well.

A light walk will improve your mood, but you need higher intensity exercise to enjoy the full cascade of cognitive benefits!

Benefits of yoga


[1] Cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood

[2] Employee self-rated productivity and objective organizational production levels

[3] Exercise enhances creativity independently of mood

[4] Cardiovascular fitness, cortical plasticity, and aging

[5] Presenteeism According to Healthy Behaviors, Physical Health, and Work Environment

[6] Acute, intermediate intensity exercise, and speed and accuracy in working memory tasks

[7] Aerobic Exercise and Creative Potential

[8] Exercise training increases mitochondrial biogenesis in the brain

[9] Aerobic Exercise and Neurocognitive Performance

[10] Differential Effects of Acute Exercise on Distinct Aspects of Executive Function

[11] High impact running improves learning

[12] Association between objectively-measured physical activity and sleep

[13] Associations between physical activity and happiness

[14] Association Between Leisure-time Physical Activity and Changes in Happiness

[15] Longitudinal gains in self-regulation from regular physical exercise

[16] Self-regulation of mood

[17] Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience

[18] Effects of exercise training on anxiety: A meta-analysis

[19] Skeletal Muscle PGC-1α1 Modulates Kynurenine Metabolism and Mediates Resilience to Stress-Induced Depression

[20] Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression?

[21] Effect of aerobic exercise training on feelings of energy and fatigue

[22] Exercise training increases mitochondrial biogenesis in the brain

[23] Physical activity yields feelings of excitement, enthusiasm

[24] Longitudinal examination of the exercise and self-esteem

[25] Links Between Physical Activity and Self-Esteem

[26] Physical activity and PDE5 inhibitors in the treatment of erectile dysfunction

[27] The Effect of Exercise on Global Self-Esteem

[28] Exercise Induces Hippocampal BDNF

[29] Exercise Benefits Brain Function: The Monoamine Connection

[30] Physical Activity Reduces Stress