28 benefits of exercise on mental health, physical and weight
It’s well established that exercising often has many beneficial effects on your physical health and that it helps with losing weight.
But not many people know the benefits of exercise on mental health such as anxiety, depression, and self-esteem.
These are all important factors if you want to lose weight.
That’s why I’ve put together a list with all the benefits of exercising on your mental health, physical health, and weight loss.
It includes 28 benefits backed up by science.
That way, you will know how important exercising is to live a healthier, happier life and how it helps with reaching your goals.
So let’s get started, shall we?
1. It improves your mental health
It’s well established that depressed patients are less fit than people without depression. Recent research shows that exercising leads to a reduction of depressive feeling.
It also leads to improved physical work capacity.
The study shows that walking for 20-40 minutes, three times a week for six weeks is beneficial to improve mental health and reduce depression.
Cycling on an exercise bike for at least half an hour shows the same results. You can do this easily in front of your tv during your favorite program.
So it’s evident that for exercising to have a real effect, you have to continue it for at least 30 minutes. The type of exercise doesn’t matter. Both aerobic exercises and strength training showed similar results. However, it took nine weeks for effect to kick in, so you have to push true the difficult phase before you experience the results.
Compared with psychotherapy, running was as effective in alleviating symptoms of depression. Running proved even to work better than medication after ten months.
How and why it works is still unclear.
The increase of endorphin through physical exercise could cause this benefit. It is also possible that exercising increases the temperature and blood flow in your brain, which improves its functionality.
A third possible reason could be an increase in self-efficacy. Depressed people often feel inefficacious to bring about positive desired outcomes in their lives and have low efficacy to cope with the symptoms of their depression. Exercise may provide a useful mode through which self-efficacy can enhance.
2. It increases happiness
Feeling happy about yourself is probably the most crucial reason why you should start exercising.
Research shows that exercising increases the amount of endorphin in your body.
Endorphin is the hormone that gives you a good feeling. It’s also responsible for creating runners high.
To get the most out of your exercises, you have to train at an intensity of more than 60% of your maximum heart rate.
Depending on your fitness level, 60% is more or less the border of being able to still talk during the exercise or not being able to speak during the training.
You can also calculate it:
(220-age) x 0,6
It’s not completely reliable, but it’s the best way without fancy equipment.
Aerobic exercise, like walking, running, or cycling, are the most effective ways to increase your endorphin levels. Higher intensity and longer duration of the exercise results in higher levels of endorphins.
It’s unclear if resistance training has the same effect because it’s never been researched properly.
I think it depends on the intensity of your resistance training. At a high intensity, your body also produces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones could harm you. Also, when you’re scared to go to a gym because you think that everybody is watching and judging you, this can lead to an increase in anxiety and happiness rather than a decrease.
It probably depends on your specific situation if resistance training has benefits for you over endurance training.
For aerobic exercising the saying is true: The more, the better.
The best way to know if you’re at the right intensity is to work out wearing an activity tracker. It measures your heart rate and calories burned. That way, you’ll know how effective your training was, and it will motivate you to perform even better next time.
3. It improves your mood
Besides improving levels of endorphin, exercising also increases levels of dopamine in the brain.
High levels of dopamine are associated with good mood and happiness.
Dopamine also gives you a good feeling about yourself. It makes you feel better about yourself.
Besides the benefit of exercise on your mood, it also reduces anxiety.
People tend to binge-eat more at days where their mood is low. However, after eating mood didn’t change, so binge eating doesn’t change your mood.
Improving mood is one of the ways in which exercising helps in losing weight.
4. It reduces anxiety
When you experience a stressful situation, your body produces the hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
It enables your body to react to a potentially dangerous situation. But when you’re always in a stressful situation, cortisol levels don’t drop. Elevated cortisol levels give you a constant sense of tension in your body that doesn’t feel good.
Exercising has shown to reduce levels of cortisol.
Together with elevated levels of dopamine and endorphins, a reduction in cortisol will lead to less anxiety.
I experience this myself as well. Every time I’ve been busy for a more extended period, I start to feel a little bit stressed.
I don’t sleep as well as I did before. I feel more agitated and perform less at work.
Then, when I go for a long run, I feel reborn afterward. I feel more relaxed and sleep better right away. It reduces stress. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do, as long as you do it.
5. It increases self-esteem
So as you can see, exercising has many mental benefits. Another study conducted in 2010 shows that exercising in a green environment generated even better results on mood, mental health, and also self-esteem then exercising indoors.
Especially in the presence of water, like running along a lake or at the beach, is very beneficial.
As mood strongly influences feelings of happiness, appreciating the moment, coping with stressful situations, and quality of life-improving it will help you feel better and aids your weight loss attempts.
Thus, next time you decide to exercise, find a forest, lake, or park to do it. It will make you feel better about yourself and give you more confidence to fight the struggles of life.
6. It increases your energy levels
Reducing anxiety and improving mood, happiness, and self-esteem also increases your energy level.
When you feel depressed, cranky, or unhappy, you’re less likely to work out or do anything.
You’ll feel less energetic.
It can become a vicious circle when you don’t push yourself to start exercising. It’s the only way to get out of the circle and start seeing results in every aspect of your life.
Exercising will give you the power to get things done without feeling tired.
Another factor that contributes to that is that exercising improves your stamina. Your gas tank grows, which gives you more energy to get things done.
When your car has a bigger gas tank, it can drive more miles before having to stop to refuel. The same thing applies to your body. When you’re stamina increases, you don’t have to rest as often to refill the tank as you would with low stamina.
You have to get tired now through exercising to be less tired in the future during household chores.
7. It increases will power
One of the most important benefits of exercising might be the increase in willpower.
In an experiment, researches formed two groups of each 12 undergraduates across Macquarie University. Participants were divided into three groups. Group one and two started right away with the exercise program, and group 3 started after four weeks as a control. The exercise programs were tailored to suit the individual by gym staff and included aerobic classes, free-weights, and resistance training.
The participants followed the program for four months.
After the training period, the participants showed a reduction in the use of cigarettes and alcohol.
It also improved healthy eating and reduced eating junk food, impulse spending, overspending, and losing temper.
As you can see, exercising will help you control your behavior and your life choices.
It helps you to stay focused and to reach your goals.
All these changes will help you to lose weight, but also to feel better about yourself.
Unfortunately, it will take willpower to get you through the first tough months before you will feel the benefits and indeed improve your willpower.
You have to be able to push yourself in the beginning.
If you’re able to do that, you will succeed and improve your quality of life. One way to push through is to look at the long term results and less at what it will cost you at the beginning.
Don’t give up despite maybe not seeing results at first. It will come, I’ll promise you.
You can also buy this book about willpower. It’s written by a well-known psychiatrist and will help you with small exercises to improve your will power to change your life and be happier.
8. It reduces binge eating
Binge eating, also known as Binge Eating Disorder, is considered an eating disorder since 2013.
Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent binge-eating episodes that are associated with a feeling of lack of control over eating and marked distress.
Also, some of the following situations must occur:
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating a large amount of food when not physically hungry
- Eating more rapidly than usual
- Eating alone because of embarrassment
- Feelings of disgust, guilt, or depression after binge eating.
Woman, younger people, and overweight people are more likely to suffer from Binge Eating disorder then a man and older persons. Furthermore, binge eating is associated with high stress and discomfort levels.
Sufferers from binge eating disorder also reported increased impulsive behavior, less self-control, and mental problems.
Research shows that people with a binge eating disorder are 15% less active than people with the same weight without a binge eating disorder.
Since all these factors can be reduced through exercising, the number of binge eating episodes during the week will also decrease.
Through exercising, your self-esteem increases, as well as your willpower. It also reduces anxiety and depression.
The combination of these factors results in more control over your binge eating disorder, but fewer situations that will trigger it.
To help you, I’ve selected a book you can buy that will teach you how to overcome your binge eating disorder with many self-help strategies to successfully lose weight.
9. It improves your cognitive function
Cognitive functioning means “how your brain functions.” Through exercise, you can improve brain function.
The optimal intensity of the exercises to improve brain function is around the anaerobic threshold.
The anaerobic threshold is the heart rate at which your body has still enough oxygen to burn it’s energy sufficiently. Above this, your body produces lactate acid when burning energy, which causes “heavy leg’s” and muscle aid afterward.
I’ve explained how to calculate this threshold earlier.
Also, when you’re exercising below the anaerobic threshold, you can still talk during exercising. Above it, you’ll be getting out of breath.
Participants showed better performance on mental tasks after exercising at a moderate intensity. Especially the speed of decision improved after performing the activity.
Improved blood flow to the brain, containing oxygen, glucose, and energetic substances, might be one of the reasons for the improvement.
So when you want to get smarter or perform better at school or your job, exercising might help you.
10. It improves your memory
Dementia and other cognitive diseases like Alzheimer disease are increasingly common in the last decade. These diseases have a significant impact on your memory and the ability of people to perform day-to-day activities without help.
Seven risk factors increase your chance to develop dementia:
- Obesity in midlife
- Cardiovascular disease
- Lack of social and cognitive engagement
- Lack of physical activities
I already explained that exercising has a beneficial effect on all the above risk factors.
Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 2017 study found that physical exercise has a significant effect at preventing dementia and cognitive decline, reducing your risk with 24%.
Your brain depends on good blood flow for its essential nutrients and to function correctly.
Cardiovascular disease decreases blood flow in your entire body, so also in your brain. That will increase the decline of your brain function, which may contribute to mental problems.
Improved brain bloodstream, therefore, enhances your memory.
11. It helps in weight loss
One of the most excellent benefits of exercising is that it helps to lose weight.
But not in the way you expect it to do.
The exercises themselves don’t burn many calories unless you can do it for an extended period.
As you can see in the picture, moderate spinning burns only 150 calories in 30 minutes for an average male and only 116 for an average female.
You have to be able to exercise intensively for at least an hour to burn a significant amount of exercises.
I have to run for an hour to burn around 1000 calories at 7,5 miles per hour.
Since most people starting out exercising, this is not realistic.
Fortunately, exercising aids weight loss in several other ways. As mentioned before it improves self-esteem, happiness and decreases anxiety, depression, and binge-eating.
Because of this, regular exercise will decrease your calorie intake significantly.
Furthermore, it’s also known to reduce cravings and hunger.
The benefit of exercising to lose weight is therefor that it helps you control your eating pattern and help you eat cleaner. That way, you’ll be able to train towards a higher physical fitness level, where the exercise itself also helps in losing weight.
Another benefit is that when you’re in a calorie deficit exercising helps to maintain your muscle mass. One of the risks of trying to lose weight through eating less is that your body breaks down muscles to be able to maintain it’s vital functions. Exercising helps to prevent that.
12. It promotes fat burning
During exercise, your body produces the hormone Irisin.
It helps to regulate your energy balance and makes sure your muscles get the energy they need to perform their task. The more muscle mass you have, the more Irisin your body produces.
In adipose (fatty) tissue, irisin stimulates the browning of white adipose tissue. Brown adipose tissue produces energy through thermogenesis. It heats the body, which is why you feel warm during exercising.
White adipose tissue holds on to energy and makes it harder to burn fat. That’s why exercising is so important for burning fat.
It increases insulin sensitivity and total body energy expenditure, which enables the reduction of body mass.
That means that exercising doesn’t only help you to lose weight, but it also helps you to lose weight the correct way. People that diet without exercising lose their weight mainly through water and muscles. When you eat little carbs, your body stores less glycogen, which means your body also holds less water. Furthermore, muscles are relatively heavy, so losing them will also reduce your weight.
However, all these changes won’t make you healthier it only lowers the scale.
Another study showed that in untrained individuals, fat burning was optimal between 47% and 52% of their maximum heart rate. In trained athletes, this was between 59% and 64%. It means that you can train harder and still burn high amounts of body fat when you’re better trained. At higher intensities, the number of carbohydrates used for energy increased, and fat oxidation decreased.
Since training at higher intensity burns more calories in general, you will lose more body fat when you’re in better shape.
Also, increased exercise duration also progressively increased fat oxidation.
To improve your fat burning capacity, you’ll have to increase your physical fitness. It’s the only way to lose that stubborn belly fat.
An activity tracker that measures your heart-rate will help you to exercise more efficiently so you can optimize the amount of fat burned during your exercises. It will also motivate you to keep pushing as you can measure improvements during the training period.
13. It increases the metabolic rate
A study conducted in 2018 shows that exercising increased the resting metabolic rate by about 10% after a 12-week training program with three training sessions per week.
It means that when you’re sitting on your couch watching tv, you’ll be burning 10% more calories than people that don’t work out regularly.
Resistance training that focuses on building muscle tends to be the most efficient way to increase your metabolic rate.
But also endurance exercises will help you to increase your metabolic rate and burn more calories during the day.
By burning more calories every day, you will lose weight faster.
14. It can reverse type 2 diabetes
Besides improving metal conditions and helping in weightless, other benefits of exercising lies in reducing several chronic diseases.
Type 2 Diabetes is a condition where a persons body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels due to a decreased sensitivity to glucose. It’s a common condition in overweight and obese people.
Research shows that exercising induces an increase in glucose uptake by your muscles to match their energy needs.
Regular exercise is known to promote improvements in glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and reduction of blood sugar levels.
That means that exercising will reduce the need to take medication to control your type 2 diabetes.
A combination of regular exercise and weight loss through a low carbohydrate diet can even reverse type 2 diabetes altogether. Even people that had diabetes for several years were able to relieve their symptoms after the program.
15. It reduces the risk of chronic diseases
Besides reducing diabetes symptoms, regular exercise has also shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and therefore, cardiovascular risk.
Since it aids in the oxidation of fatty tissue, exercising reduces the amount of fat in your blood, which reduces clocking. That’s the reason that your blood pressure lowers and the risk of a heart attack or stroke decreases.
Improved physical fitness also strengthens your immune system reducing the risk of developing cancer as well as various infections.
16. It improves the quality of your muscles and bones
Your body is designed in a way that it protects itself against ‘dangers’ from outside.
When you challenge your body through exercises, it will react through overcompensation. During training, you damage your muscles due to the forces they have to deliver. To withstand these forces the next time, your body doesn’t only restore the damaged tissue but also produces additional muscles.
It does that to protect itself in the future.
The same happens with your bones. Exercising increase bone density and strength. It’s also the reason why the bones at your joints can widen. Muscles pull at the bone, causing it to grow. You can see this especially well in weight lifters and bodybuilders.
It’s a well-known principle in the fitness industry.
17. It improves your immune system
Another great benefit of exercising is that it prevents you from getting sick.
Research shows that people that exercise regularly have higher immunoglobulin levels than people that live a sedentary lifestyle.
That means that your body is more capable of fighting bacteria and viruses entering your body.
The study also shows a decrease in cortisol in the body. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. So exercising also reduces stress in your life. It helps you to cope with stressful situations.
I’m a runner myself, and I’m never sick and also never overwhelmed by stress.
When I’m feeling stressed through my study or work, then running is the best way for me to reduce my stress and feel better.
18. It reduces inflammation
Chronic inflammation accompanies aging as well as some chronic medical disorders. Also, fat tissue often shows signs of chronic inflammation.
The inflammation causes several chronic diseases like dementia, atherosclerosis, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and osteoarthritis.
That’s why obesity causes all these diseases. Obese people carry a lot of fat tissue with them bringing their body in a permanent inflamed state. It facilitates the development of all these diseases, which can lead to an early death.
During exercise, your body releases anti-inflammatory substances to fight the inflammation in your body.
Regular exercising, therefore, reduces heart diseases, high blood pressure, and diabetes, as I will explain below. Even moderate exercises already showed a significant increase in anti-inflammatory substances.
19. It reduces the risk of osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a common condition in overweight and obese people.
Due to the inflammatory state of adipose tissue, cartilage quality decreases faster than in non-obese persons. Lack of muscle strength causes even more pain and discomfort.
Due to the reduction of cartilage in the joint, the remaining cartilage has to carry more load then it can. That is one of the reasons for the pain to occur.
Through exercising and improved leg muscle strength, the load on the cartilage decreases. Moving your knee through cycling enhances the lubrication of the joint, resulting in less pain and discomfort.
A study conducted in 2017 shows that an educational program promoting regular physical exercise improves functional capacity and daily living physical activity in subjects with knee osteoarthritis.
Three hundred middle-aged patients with knee osteoarthritis were randomly assigned to the educational program or the control group. The educational program group participated in an educational program by a multidisciplinary group, which emphasized the recommendation for regular practice of home-based exercise in addition to the conventional clinical treatment.
The educational program consisted of information about the anatomy of the knee and the development of knee osteoarthritis. Also, the health-related benefits of physical exercise and its role on knee osteoarthritis management where discussed.
The program furthermore consisted of exercises to do at home and how this would elevate pain.
Results after 6 and 12 months where that the educational group experienced less pain and discomfort during their daily activities compared to the control group.
The best way to reduce knee pain in general, not only due to osteoarthritis is to ride a bicycle daily. It’s an excellent way to move your knee, without to much pressure on the joint and the easiest way to relieve knee pain.
For your convenience, I’ve selected an easy to use a stationary bike to start right away with pain relief.
You can use it in front of your tv to ride it when you watch your favorite tv show. That way time will fly, and you don’t even notice riding it for an hour.
It’s also a great way to burn extra calories every day to aid your weight loss.
20. It reduces the severity of asthma
A study conducted in 2018 shows that a combination of a weight loss program and an exercise program increased the number of asthma-free days. The exercise program also results in a decrease in obstructive sleep apnea and improvements in depression symptoms.
The training program consisted of aerobic and resistance muscle training for three months.
Exercise is known to work anti-inflammatory, which is the main problem with asthma.
Another study shows that regular exercise also decreases the number of nighttime asthma attacks resulting in better sleep patterns among both children and adults.
Nocturnal asthma leads to fragmented sleep, daytime fatigue, and impaired cognitive performance leading to poor quality of life.
During sleep, recumbent posture causes a reduction in lung volumes, respiratory muscle tone, and lung compliance.
Regular exercise is known to improve muscle strength, lung volume, and lung strength, thus relieving asthma symptoms.
21. It improves thyroid gland functioning
Another benefit of exercising is that it increases the production of several hormones. One of the most important ones is hormonal production of your thyroid gland.
These hormones are essential in regulating general metabolism, growth, fatty acid oxidation, and thermoregulation.
They also regulate the regeneration of all your body cells as well as many other body functions:
- Heart rate
- Central and peripheral nervous systems
- Body weight
- Muscle strength
- Menstrual cycles
- Body temperature
- Cholesterol levels
So a functional thyroid gland is essential too feel good, be healthy, and regulate your weight.
22. It reduces chronic pain
Chronic pain is defined as pain lasting beyond standard tissue healing time, generally taken to be 12 weeks. It contributes to disability, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, poor quality of life, and healthcare costs.
Many factors contribute to the development of chronic pain:
- Female gender
- Older age
- Lower socioeconomic status
- Geographical and cultural background
There are also factors that can actively be changed by the person itself:
- Alcohol intake
- Employment status
- Physical activity level
Studies have shown that a single bout of exercise increases the production of endogenous opioids, increase the pain threshold in your brain.
The pain threshold in your brain is the barrier at which your brain interprets a signal from your body as pain.
You might not know it, but your body reacts to signals differently according to the situation. It can also change its sensitivity to pain, depending on the threat it might cause.
The best-known example is putting your hand in hot water. At first, it hurts to do it, but when you keep your hand in it, it feels less painful over time. Your brain alters the pain threshold because the hot water doesn’t damage your hand and therefore is not a threat.
The production of hormones like endorphin and adrenaline also alters this pain threshold, reducing pain after exercising.
By improving your self-esteem, reducing depression, and anxiety exercising also reduces pain, since these are contributing factors for the severity of pain.
You can also buy this book that will teach you how chronic pain works and what you can do to reduce it through specific home exercises. It can give you a head start to a happier life.
23. It reduces the signs of aging
As people get older, primary body functions start to decline.
For example, the maximal oxygen uptake reduces significantly as we get older. It means that the function of your heart and lungs decreases, which causes a drop of oxygen levels in your blood.
Also, muscle mass decreases as we get older. Due to hormonal changes the amount of muscles, as well as the density of your muscles lessens.
These two factors lead to increased disability and dependence at an older age.
Fortunately, there is a way to reduce the signs of aging and slow down the decline.
Regular exercise, particularly dynamic exercise of moderate intensity (70-80% of your maximum heart rate) through brisk walking, running or bicycling reduces age declines of your heart and lungs.
At the other hand, strength training shows to reduce the decline in muscle mass. These exercises don’t have to be performed with heavy weights. Training with a bottle of water or a resistance band can be enough to slow down the decline.
Together with improving your heart and lung function as well as training your muscles results in better health during the last years of your life.
Exercising also helps to live longer and healthier.
24. It increases your life expectancy
Risk factors like smoking, drinking, and lack of exercise are known risk factors that reduce your life expectancy. Research shows that people without these risk factors live an average of 8 years longer in good health, and six years free of chronic diseases.
So when you exercise regularly, eat and drink healthy and don’t smoke, you will live both longer and healthier.
It will help you to stay strong, maintain muscle power and endurance when your body is aging. That is especially important after retiring. When you retire from work, physical demands usually decrease, which can cause physical problems.
When you lose muscle power, joint problems can become prominent as you lose compensational mechanisms.
A study in Japan showed that the elderly that keeps exercising after retirement, even just 1 hour a week suffer fewer disabilities than those that didn’t. It also reduced their healthcare costs, which is a nice bonus.
25. It improves your sex life
Antidepressant medications are the most common treatment for depression and anxiety in the USA. I explained earlier how regular physical exercise could reduce depression and anxiety, which also decreases your need for antidepressant medication.
Common side effects of antidepressants are sexual, such as:
- Disruption of sexual desire
- Reduced genital arousal
- Delay or loss of orgasm
It also has a significant impact on your quality of life.
A study shows that physical exercise can significantly reduce the side effects of antidepressants.
That means that the benefit of physical exercise on your sex life works in two ways:
It reduces depression, which means that you need less antidepressant medication, and at the same time, it reduces the side effects of these medicines.
Physical exercise creates a win-win situation.
26. Improves the chance to get pregnant
The benefit of exercise is not just mentally and physically, but it also affects your fertility.
You’ve probably heard about professional athletes that train so much that their menstrual cycles change or even disappear entirely.
But not exercising at all also has many adverse effects on your fertility.
A literature review suggests that exercise and weight loss improves female fertility.
The excess of fat supports an increase in your estrogen level.
- Irregular periods
- Light spotting
- Heavy bleeding
- More severe symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Cold hands and feet
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hair loss
- Low sex drive
- Mood changes, depression or anxiety
- Problems with memory
- Swollen or tender breaths
When you often exercise and lose weight, your estrogen levels will decrease. It will make your menstrual cycles more regular and can also improve the quality of your egg cells.
Together these positive change will increase your chances of getting pregnant.
27. It reduces the amount and severity of headaches
Migraine is one of the most common forms of headache, along with tension-type headache.
The cause of a headache is often multifactual. It’s a combination of stress, decreased neck mobility, and reduced neck muscle strength.
Exercises improving neck mobility, neck muscle strength, and general fitness, reduces the amount and severity of headache episodes.
That way, you can take back control over your headache.
You can find the self-treatment for headaches, including home exercises on my other website.
28. It improves your sleep quality
Sleep quality and physical exercise correlate with each other.
A study among older people with insomnia for at least three months compared a sleep hygiene education program with or without physical activity for 16 weeks.
They looked at self-reported sleep quality, quality of life, and mood at baseline and after the intervention.
The study concluded that the combination of a sleep hygiene education program combined with physical activity had the most significant impact on sleep quality, mood, and quality of life.
These results shouldn’t come as a surprise.
We already know that regular exercise improves mood, anxiety, and depression. Since these are the most significant negative factors for sleep quality, regular exercise should enhance the quality of sleep because it also affects all these negative factors.
So if you want to sleep thigh, you have to exercise.
Now I want to hear from you!
In the end, there are many reasons why you want to start exercising.
Is it because you need an extra boost to lose more weight or do you want to reduce your medication for diabetes.
Or, do you want to be happier and have more self-esteem.
Let me know your reason to start exercising in the comments below.
Let’s make the world healthy again!