Challenge yourself to be more active every day and start thinking about physical exercise as a powerful mental workout for your mind. In this article, we look at the relationship between physical fitness and mental health and how it can improve our overall well-being.

The BBC reports that a mental health illness will affect 1 in 4 of us at some time in our lives. Scientists believe that those of us who are more active are less likely to experience mental health problems than those who are inactive. Let us look at the relationship between mental health and well-being.

“When stress affects the brain, the body feels the pain”.

How are mental health and well-being linked?

Firstly, mental health can be confusing, as it is often associated with mental illness. But we all have mental health, and can feel well or unwell just like our physical health. Our mental health affects how we think, feel and act and just like our bodies, we also need to look after the health of our minds. Dealing with life’s ups and downs, building relationships and how we make decisions is also impacted by mental health.

What is well-being?

Well-being is described as a feeling, it’s a complex measure of how you feel about yourself and your life. It is influenced by our physical, mental and emotional health, put simply - whether we feel positive about our life and feel good about ourselves Both physical and mental health can have a big impact on how we feel. Exercise can be used to help improve well-being.

What is the relationship between physical fitness and mental health?

“Movement is medicine”.

Our bodies are designed to move, physical fitness doesn’t have to be a heavy gym session or a 5-mile run, a 10-minute walk can positively change the way we are feeling leaving us energized, alert and uplifted. We already know exercise is good for our bodies, from keeping our bones strong to maintaining the health of our heart and lungs, but it can also help us think and act more positively whilst reducing the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Scientific research confirms that people who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of wellbeing, helping them feel happier and healthier about themselves and their lives.

No matter what our age or fitness level, we can all use exercise to boost our well-being and see movement as medicine to benefit our bodies and minds.

What are the top 5 benefits of fitness to improve mental health?

When stress affects the brain, the body feels the pain. When you start to exercise your heart pumps out more blood, more blood in the brain means more oxygen and nutrients in the brain. As a result, feel good chemicals are released called endorphins and your brain starts to get rid of chemicals that make you feel stressed and anxious.

Sleep matters

The body and mind recover when we sleep. Exercise tires our muscles but also increases the production of melatonin - the sleep hormone. Melatonin levels are important as it helps our bodies relax and fall asleep. We all know that feeling of waking up and being able to deal with life’s ups and downs more positively when we’ve had a good night’s sleep.

Get up and go

Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more energy by increasing the capacity of your heart and lungs. Everyday chores will feel easier with not only increased muscle strength but with more energy. Energy motivates us to get out of bed and embrace the day.

Sharpen your mind

Exercise improves the cognitive functions associated with decision-making and therefore enables you to be more switched on and productive during the day. Scientists believe that your grey matter is less likely to suffer from dementia with regular exercise. Shape up so your mind doesn’t ship out.

Release tension

Aches and pains in our muscles and body can lead to low mood. Exercise eases tension, releases discomfort and generates pain relievers in the form of endorphins in the brain whilst triggering the body’s relaxation response.

Less is more

You don’t have to run a marathon to boost your mood, between 10 and 40 minutes is optimal, think little and often. All movement counts - walk, run, stretch, dance, move your body in a way that makes you feel good, doesn’t injure you, and doesn’t make you want to stop.

“Fitness is a vital cog in people's daily routine”.

Making a regular physical activity part of our everyday lives can increase self-esteem and reduce stress and anxiety. Give your mind a break by focusing on the task at hand and train to reach new levels of mental and physical strength to improve the quality of life.

About the author

Claire Cole is the founder of Movement for Minds, offering quick and effective mood boosting workouts scientifically designed to balance health, happiness and brain hormones. Alongside being a fully qualified fitness professional, Claire is a mum of 2 and features regularly in the press and on TV promoting the benefits of fitness for mental health. She also runs Metabolic Conditioning for the Mind, suitable for all fitness levels, designed to boost the right balance of brain chemistry to leave you feeling energized and alert.

Want to learn more about mental health and fitness? Visit:

Our #MoveYourMind Initiatives

In 2020, 4657 men died from suicide. On the 28th of November, 4657 metres will be walked to remember them and raise money for the HUMEN Mind Gyms, which encourage men to meet up and discuss their feelings. To get involved and raise money for an important cause, find out more about Rise Against Sunrise Walks right here.

There's also a lot going on during Red January, a nationwide movement that aims to empower people across the nation to make the very best start of the new year by keeping active every day. Click here for information.

You can also check out Decathlon’s free daily fitness activities on PLAY to get started.