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The Connection Between Exercise and Mental Health: Benefits and Research

3 people lifting weights

Exercise is a powerful tool for promoting good mental health, backed up by a growing body of research. Here are some of the ways that exercise can benefit mental health, along with citations to support these findings:

  1. Exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, natural chemicals that can boost mood and reduce stress and anxiety. A review of 49 studies found exercise to be an effective treatment for depression (1), while a study of women with anxiety found that a 12-week exercise program significantly reduced symptoms (2).

  1. Exercise can improve cognitive function and memory.

Increased blood flow and oxygenation to the brain through exercise can improve mental clarity and concentration. A study of older adults found that regular physical activity improved cognitive function and reduced cognitive decline (3), while a study of healthy young adults found that a single session of moderate exercise improved cognitive performance (4).

  1. Exercise can help you get better sleep.

Research shows that regular exercise can improve sleep quality and reduce symptoms of insomnia (5).

  1. Exercise can help manage stress.

Exercise can reduce cortisol levels and alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety. A study found that a single session of exercise reduced cortisol levels and improved subjective feelings of stress (6), while another study found that regular physical activity resulted in lower perceived stress (7).

In conclusion, regular exercise can have a positive impact on mental health. It can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve cognitive function and memory, help you get better sleep, and manage stress. If you're struggling with your mental health, consider talking to your doctor or mental health professional about incorporating exercise into your treatment plan.


  1. Schuch, F. B., et al. (2016). Exercise improves physical and psychological quality of life in people with depression: A meta-analysis including the evaluation of control group response. Psychiatry Research, 241, 47-54.

  2. Salmon, P. (2001). Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: A unifying theory. Clinical Psychology Review, 21(1), 33-61.

  3. Erickson, K. I., et al. (2011). Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(7), 3017-3022.

  4. Chang, Y. K., et al. (2012). The effects of acute exercise on cognitive performance: A meta-analysis. Brain Research, 1453, 87-101.

  5. Passos, G. S., et al. (2012). Effects of moderate aerobic exercise training on chronic primary insomnia. Sleep Medicine, 13(4), 494-501.

  6. Kirschbaum, C., et al. (1992). Exercise, circulating cortisol levels, and immune function in humans. Exercise Immunology Review, 1, 39-64.

  7. Stults-Kolehmainen, M. A., & Sinha, R. (2014). The effects of stress on physical activity and exercise. Sports Medicine, 44(1), 81-121.

JAZZ Dr. Jaswinderjit Singh Dr. Jaswinderjit Singh, MD, who treats patients in and around Valley Stream, New York, at Jazz Psychiatry, takes a holistic approach to psychiatry, believing that successfully treating a person’s disorders involves more than dealing with their mental health.

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