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 recovery

3-minute read

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

Benefits of exercise to your mental health

Exercise can:

  • improve your mood and sense of wellbeing if you have depression, anxiety or schizophrenia
  • help you feel more confident as you realise that you can do what you set out to do
  • take your mind off your worries
  • put you in touch with other people

Exercise can also:

  • help keep your weight under control, which is a problem caused by some medications
  • reduce the chance of you getting diabetes and heart disease

Tips to get you started

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

  • 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 assistance for gym membership as part of a mental health care plan.
  • 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.

Where to get support

Last reviewed: March 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Exercise physiology

Through exercise physiology you can be tested and provided with exercises to help with the management and prevention of mental health conditions, chronic health conditions, rehabilitation and disabilities.

Read more on WA Health website

Exercise & depression

Research suggests that regular exercise may increase the level of brain serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood, sleep, libido, appetite and other functions .

Read more on Black Dog Institute website

Promoting good mental health

Good mental health plays a significant part in overall health and wellbeing. Maintaining good mental health is just as important as good physical health.

Read more on Australian College of Mental Health Nurses website

Young Adult Health - Health Topics - Mental health

Mental health, or emotional health, is a part of your overall health and your life. Mental health is not about an absence of illness, it's more about how well someone feels they are coping with the challenges life brings. Its just like your physical health sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad but mental health has more to do with your thoughts and feelings.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Pets and mental health | Coping | ReachOut Australia

We all know that pets doing hilarious things win the internet, but did you know that pets can also be winners for mental health, too?

Read more on ReachOut.com website

Managing depression with exercise

Helpful strategies to motivate you to become more active

Read more on Black Dog Institute website

Dog walking - the health benefits

Regular exercise with your pet is good for both your health and your dog's health and can be great fun. There's nothing like an exercise partner who's waiting by the door with a wagging tail to keep you motivated!

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Supporting a colleague

There are a number of positive things you can do to support a colleague experiencing a mental health condition.

Read more on beyondblue website

Eating disorders, anxiety and depression

Having an eating disorder is neither a lifestyle choice, a ‘diet gone wrong’, nor an attempt to get attention. A person with an eating disorder has a mental health condition.

Read more on beyondblue website

Weigh up the pros and cons

The decision of whether to talk about your mental health condition at work is a personal one – there's no right or wrong answer, and every situation is different.

Read more on beyondblue website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information 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

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 Government of Western Australia, health department logo