Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Exercise and mental health

6-minute read

Exercise has many benefits, not only for your physical health but also your mental health. In your brain, exercise stimulates chemicals that improve your mood and the parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

Exercise can also assist in mental health recovery. You can start slowly, and work on overcoming obstacles like motivation, cost and time.

What are the benefits of exercise?

Physical activity and exercise has many benefits. It can:

What are the mental health benefits of exercise?

Exercise releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood. It can also get you out in the world, help to reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation, and put you in touch with other people.

If you exercise regularly, it can reduce your stress and symptoms of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety or schizophrenia, and help with recovery from mental health issues.

It can also improve your sleep, which is important in many different ways.

Exercise and the mind

Exercise pumps blood to the brain, which can help you to think more clearly.

It increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory.

It also increases the connections between the nerve cells in the brain. This improves your memory and helps protect your brain against injury and disease.

How much exercise do I need?

Australian guidelines recommend adults do at least 30 minutes of moderate to intensive physical activity on most or all days of the week. You can make up 30 minutes over the day by combining shorter 10 to 15 minute sessions.

Practising mindfulness while doing exercise also reduces your stress and improves your mental health.

If money is a worry, think about local community centres, which often have affordable exercise groups. And if you have private health insurance, you might get help for gym membership as part of a mental health treatment plan.

You may struggle finding motivation, or staying motivated for exercise. Think about ways you can make exercise part of your daily routine and lifestyle. Choose something you enjoy, and ask your friends or family to help motivate you and to keep you on track.

If you own a dog, take them for walks in your local area.

Combine your exercise routine with a healthy diet to boost your motivation and energy for exercise.

How do I start exercising?

You don’t need to visit a gym to exercise. Consider ways you can incorporate exercise into your daily routine and lifestyle. Pick something you enjoy, and use your friends or family as motivators to keep you on track.

  • Enjoy the benefits of owning a pet — if you own a dog, make the most of your local area for their walks. You could walk in a park or by a beach if they are nearby.
  • If you enjoy dancing, try a creative dance movement class.
  • If you can’t move around easily, swimming might work for you.
  • Seated exercise is an option for people with a disability.

For walking, a pedometer helps you set goals by monitoring your steps, aiming for 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day. Exercise is also a good time to try mindfulness self-awareness training.

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health has a list of activities for men and women to give you some ideas on where to start.

Overcoming obstacles to exercising

  • Motivation: You may struggle with motivation for exercise. Start slow, set small goals, and use a mood monitor to keep track of any change in your mood.
  • Cost: Local community centres often have affordable exercise groups. And if you have private health insurance. you might get financial assistance for gym membership.
  • Anxiety or feeling intimidated: You might feel uncomfortable joining a group exercise class. This is perfectly normal. Take a friend with you for the first time, or download an app to exercise in your own home.
  • Time: If you are short on time, break exercise into small chunks. Instead of doing 30 minutes in one go, do three lots of 10 minutes in a day.
  • Physical: if physical obstacles such as injuries are making it difficult to exercise, you may benefit from seeing a health professional such as a physiotherapist to help you recover.

Resources and support

If you need more information and support, visit Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia (MIFA) for resources, helplines, apps, online programs and forums.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Exercise & Fitness - Finding North

On this page Jump to Overview Overview Benefits Tips Overview It may come as a surprise, but regular physical exercise helps to give you energy

Read more on Finding North website

Benefits of physical activity | Heart Foundation

Physical activity and exercise can do wonders for physical and mental health, including reducing your risk of heart disease. Read the benefits of physical activity.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Physical activity benefits to your body -

The beneficial effects of regular exercise or physical activity on your body range from fighting depression to reducing the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

Read more on myDr website

Physical Activity and Exercise | Heart Foundation

Moving your body a little each day can be great for your heart health. Learn how physical activity and exercise can benefit your heart, body and mind.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Physical activity for women - Better Health Channel

If you can't make the time to exercise for yourself, do it for your family.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Mental Health and Exercise - What you need to know!

Do you know the importance of exercise in regards to improving your mental health? Read on and learn how exercise can improve your quality of life.

Read more on Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) website

Physical activity and exercise | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Physical activity is important at any age for good physical and mental health and wellbeing. Find out how active you should be, how to add activity into your daily life, and what we’re doing to help everyone become more active.

Read more on Department of Health and Aged Care website

For pregnancy | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Being active during and after pregnancy is essential for the good health and wellbeing of both you and your baby. You should continue to follow the guidelines for adults, and add pelvic floor exercises. But you might need to modify the exercises you do as your body changes during pregnancy.

Read more on Department of Health and Aged Care website

Keeping active - Beyond Blue

Regular physical activity is a good way to help prevent or manage mild anxiety and depression, help you stay physically fit and mentally healthy.

Read more on Beyond Blue website

Exercise and mental health - Better Health Channel

Research shows that people who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional wellbeing, and lower rates of mental illness.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.