Is exercise really good for mental health?


Is exercise really good for mental health?We all know how good we feel after a refreshing walk or a workout session at the gym or getting outside and playing a round of golf. We walk taller, our confidence soars and so does our self-esteem, but what happens on a cellular level, inside our brains? How does exercise affect our mental health, how long does it last and is there such a thing as too much exercise?

Countless scientific studies have proven over and over again the benefits between the mind-body connection and what happens after exercise. Studies out of Poland have shown how aerobic activity reduces anxiety, depression and negative mood due to the increased oxygen supply to the brain. Earlier studies out of Canada have shown that moderate exercise stimulates neurogenesis (new brain cell growth), which helps to improve cognitive function and overall mood.

But how much exercise do I need a week?

It is important to note that too much exercise can be harmful to your body. When you are exercising, you need to take the time to stretch and rest the muscles so that they repair adequately enough to avoid injury. Science has shown that the optimum amount of exercise per week to improve mental health is three, 30-minute sessions of moderate exercise.

“Moreover, these 30 minutes need not to be continuous; three 10-minute walks are believed to be as equally useful as one 30-minute walk.”

Other studies have shown the mental health benefits of exercise on self-esteem and social withdrawal. People who suffer from depression and other mental health issues often become very isolated and fall into an inactive, sedentary lifestyle. By committing to a regular exercise program, three things happen that can aid mental health:

  1. A change in lifestyle ignites a change in behaviour – a positive move in the right direction.
  2. Regular exercise encourages social interaction and helps bring the individual into a more positive environment.
  3. Physical exercise helps to prevent weight-related diseases that result from a sedentary lifestyle.

How long do these mental health benefits last?

The brain, like any other muscle in the body, needs exercise to perform at its optimum level. Experiments out of the University of Sao Paulo showed that test subjects saw a decline in cognitive function when exercise was removed from their daily routine.

 “Brain changes are not maintained when regular physical exercise is interrupted,” says Gilberto Xavier, a professor of psychology at the University of Sao Paulo.

Committing to a regular exercise program takes a conscious effort and lifestyle change. When you embark upon a fitness program, you need to set goals and develop a plan so you can track your progress. With the help of interactive tools, like online programs and wireless activity trackers, it’s easy to stay on track and stick to your fitness goals, which prompted us to develop our own fitness support program.

Fitness Coach Connects keeps you on track with three free sessions with a professional Fitness Coach, Fitbit™ wireless activity tracker and an online program. Fitness Coach Connects is now available through your Employee and Family Assistance Program. For more information, call 1 866 833-7690 or visit


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