How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health? (& the 5 Best Exercises for Your Mental Health)

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Published Date|
September 6, 2022

How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health? (& the 5 Best Exercises for Your Mental Health)

We’ve heard it time and time again: If you want to improve your mental health, you need to exercise more. It can feel like we’re being told if we just get outside and move our bodies, then our mental health issues will magically resolve themselves.


But when you’re struggling with your mental health, sometimes the last thing you want to do is go to the gym or sign up for an intense workout class.


Here at KMA, we understand how frustrating it is to be told that something will improve your mental health without being told how. We know you want to understand the benefits of something before investing your time (and your money) into it.


That’s why we’ve gathered the information you need to decide if adding exercise into your daily routine will help to support your mental health.


By the end of this article, you’ll have an understanding of the mental health benefits of exercise, what types of exercise may work for you, and how to take the first step to start exercising.

How Does Exercise Benefit Mental Health?

Although the advice of moving your body to boost your mood can feel a bit cliché, it is rooted in science. Studies on exercise have shown that it not only has benefits for your physical health but your mental health as well.


The mental health benefits of exercise include:

  • Improved cognition
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Reduced negative moods
  • Reduced feelings of anxiety
  • Reduced feelings of depression

Add these to physical benefits such as improved sleep quality and heightened energy levels, and you can see why so many people recommend exercise as a mood booster – it may be cliché, but it works. 

5 Best Exercises for Mental Health


At this point, you may have decided that you want to start exercising, but you’re not quite sure how. With the fitness industry booming now more than ever, it can feel like there are an overwhelming amount of options available for you to choose from.

best exercises for mental health


While getting a gym membership or signing up for group fitness classes can be an amazing option for some people, for others these options can feel too intimidating or too expensive.


However, there are a ton of free and accessible exercises that you can try from the comfort of your home.

1. Yoga

Yoga is a great choice to help support your mental health. Its combination of mindful movement and focus on breath-work can help to still your mind and ease anxiety. There are many yoga classes available on YouTube that you can try for free.

With evidence to back up yoga’s ability to increase quality of life, it’s a great choice to alleviate anxiety.

2. Walking

Taking a walk can be a low-pressure and accessible form of exercise. Whether you’re exploring your neighbourhood or spending time in nature, walking can be incredibly relaxing. Try throwing on your favourite podcast or a motivating playlist to help you get moving.

Aerobic activities have been proven to reduce negative mental health symptoms, and walking’s low cost and accessibility make it one of the best forms.

3. Pilates

Pilates focuses on strengthening your body with controlled and intentional movement. It can be a low-impact exercise option, with varying levels of difficulty that increase with your skill level. With a ton of free Pilates classes online, you’ll be able to find one that suits your fitness goals.

Evidence supporting pilates’ ability to reduce fatigue and depressive symptoms continues to grow, making it a great choice to support mental health.

4. Resistance Training

Resistance training can include lifting weights, using exercise bands, or even working with your body weight. It can help to make you physically stronger while creating a new outlet for your energy.

Resistance training has brain-boosting benefits such as improved memory, making it a great exercise not only for mental health but for overall cognitive functioning.

5. Exercise That You Enjoy

The most beneficial form of exercise will always be the one that you actually do. You may have the most fun going for a quick run or playing a team sport with friends. 

Team sports have even been proven to have the greatest positive impact on mental health when compared to other forms of exercise.

Figuring out what form of exercise will motivate you to stay active is the most important part.

Exercising with a Physical Disability

If you have a physical disability, you might not be able to engage with all of the activities outlined above - but you can still benefit greatly from aerobic activities. If you're interested in engaging with more aerobic exercise but you aren't sure where to start, exploring online exercise programs can be a great first step.

Some other great exercise choices for adults with disabilities include:

  • Swimming
  • Water aerobics
  • Seated volleyball
  • Para hockey (formerly sledge hockey)
  • Wheelchair basketball, softball, or tennis

Next Steps for Improving Mental Health with Exercise

After reading this article, you now have an understanding of how exercise can improve mental health and some options for how you might like to start exercising.


However, even when you know all of the benefits, it can be hard to find the motivation to begin exercising. Our experienced therapists here at KMA have the resources to support you in taking that first step.


Connect with our team or fill out our registration form below to get started.


If you’re not quite ready to speak to a mental health professional, you can check out these resources for further reading:

About the Author

Emily Weatherhead has a Masters in Community Psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University, where her research focused on improving post-secondary student mental health. She is passionate about finding new ways to make mental health research more accessible and break down the barriers that prevent people from receiving mental health care.

Author |
Emily Weatherhead (Guest Author)
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