The Core of my being is health image

How exercise improves mental health

Are you sabotaging your results?

Quite often I hear people talk to me about their desire and goals for body fat loss.  The one theme that comes out in many of these conversations is that their specific result in mind is tied to an event.  One example is that they look forward to beach weather and wearing shorts, swimming trunks or bikinis.  It could also be a tropical vacation planned or a once-in-a-lifetime event such as a wedding, and they want to make sure they fit into that special tux or dress.  They get super motivated and immerse themselves in the plethora of online information about diets and get in quick shape schemes out there.  By the way, get in shape quickly does not exist; there are no shortcuts. Their willpower is high because their reason for getting in shape is big at that moment.  The truth is that many people achieve results, but they can be short-lived.  Why?  Because our brain has a body-fat set point and is tied to our self-image.  Results are usually achieved by dieting and willpower, and they get to their end destination or event in good shape and then begin to relax and slip back into their comfort zone.  This is usually an automatic cycle because that is how the brain works.  It keeps us safe, conserves energy, avoids pain and seeks pleasure. Once you stop your diet and slow down on your exercise regimen, the caloric intake typically rises back to pre-diet levels. The metabolism reregulates, and you put back on all the weight you lost.  If you experienced this cycle I encourage you to check out my friend’s Winning the Game of Weight loss program.


Set healthy habits and stick to them

The best approach to releasing body fat is to set healthy habits and stick to them until they become automatic.  Changes and adjustments in eating, exercise and sleep can be set as good habits.  It is best to do your research and select a nutritionist to develop a proper food plan and someone who can guide you through a fitness plan and keep you accountable until your new habits become automatic.  Keep in mind it generally takes at least nine weeks to set the foundation for a habit.  Determine your appropriate caloric intake for your desired weight and the best exercise plan for you. I recommend exercises at a minimum of four to five times per week.  I also recommend high-intensity interval training if the goal is body fat release.  You can always start with small steps to get into action and pick up some momentum as you get comfortable.  In fact, many people start off this way if they are beginners.

Mental Health image

Mental health benefits

We know that regular exercise will reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions.  In addition, I would like to point out one common condition that you will benefit from in the short term: exercise counters depression and anxiety.  But, unfortunately, the reverse is true as well in that the lack of physical activity increases the risk factor for developing it.  Clinical psychologist at Duke University, James Blumenthal, says “The majority of evidence suggests that a certain subset of patients can benefit just as much with exercise, if not more, than with medication.”

Today’s generation of younger adults spends more of their day in a sedentary position and in front of computer screens and devices, scrolling through tons of content.  These folks are more susceptible to experiencing depressive symptoms.

Exercise is mental health image

A healthy feel-good habit for life

Trust me on this one, when you get into a workout routine, you will eventually become motivated by the feel-good chemicals produced in your brain for a couple of hours after each high-intensity workout.  This is the release of endorphins from the brain into your system.  Exercise also stimulates dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.  In my view, I can describe these feelings as a light ‘high’ and empowered state of mind.  Exercise energizes you with a sense of achievement and elevates your self-esteem and mood.  It regulates your appetite and sleep cycles and distracts you from automatic negative thoughts. I can appreciate that beginning an exercise program is not that simple, given very low motivation levels at first.  It certainly takes time to adjust, and that is why I recommend taking small steps initially.  It can change the way you play the game of life once you begin gaining traction.  A person I consider to be my mentor once reminded me that trying to push a parked car and get it into motion is obviously very difficult at first.  However, pushing a car that is already in slight motion is much easier. The same goes for any habit we are trying to create, especially with exercise.  If you don’t feel like it, take the first few steps and do a little bit anyway.  Make it fun and choose an exercise program that you enjoy doing.  Put on your favourite music that jazzes you up!  I have some excellent training routines up my sleeve that I am happy to share with people at all levels.

Support your fitness efforts with a sound nutrition plan

Make sure to set a fine balance between protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats.  I recommend a caloric balance of 50% complex carbs made up primarily of green veggies, 25% lean protein, and 25% healthy fat intake.  You can reduce cravings for processed foods and sugar when you have this proper consumption balance in place.  It will lead to stable blood sugar and a healthy gut and mind.  Refer to my previous post here on healthy food choices.

What’s next?

To get started on your health journey, you can download the free guide – 3 Pillars to upgrade your health, where you’ll gather some great information on living your life in a balanced and healthy way.  Live well!

12 thoughts on “How exercise improves mental health”

  1. pasindu dimanka

    Thanks so much for sharing posts like this. I think this is a very important post because the most important thing for anyone to live a good life is mental health. You have explained it all in perfect order in this post. And mentally all of that is very important for mental health. Even a physically weak person can live happily ever after with a high level of mental health. Thank you so much for this valuable content. keep it up.

  2. Hi Michael, thanks for your article “The Core of My Being is Health” It sounds like you have heard of a set-point-weight. After losing considerable weight over the last 2 years, now it seems to be coming back. Do you have any good suggestions how to make a lower set-point-weight “stick”? I know it can be done, because I have friends who have lowered their set-point-weight.

    1. Hi Carolyn.  Thanks for sharing your experience and asking the question about set points.  Our internal set point is tied to our own conditioned self-image.  Our brain’s responsibility is to ensure that our external world of results matches our internal conditioned map that we have around our self-image.  Our brain maintains consistency between our inner world and outer world.  This is why diets only work short-term.  Once we end our dieting and exercise our caloric intake rises back to our normal patterns and our metabolism re-regulates.  The key is changing our lifestyle by creating new healthy habits (exercise, nutrition, sleep) and repeating them long enough so they become automatic.  The type of calories we consume is critical to changing our weight set-point   If you are interested in chatting more about this I can share the changes I’ve made that work long term.   Thanks again, Carolyn and live well!

  3. I think this is a very good article on how exercise improves mental health.  I particularly liked the recommendation of high intensity interval training.  I have a real love/hate relationship with my hiit exercise of choice, which is running stairs.  I hate it before I do it and I love it after I have done it.  The endorphins have kicked in and I am so mellow physically and mentally the rest of the day.  I don’t have any experience with medication, but I am sure the endorphins are much more enjoyable.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Bill.   I can understand how you feel.   Try to replace the word hate with “I don’t feel like it” and you know what..,  just do a little bit anyway.  e.x. do10 minutes and before you know it you’ll be 30 minutes in and feeling great after the neurochemicals kick in as you pointed out.   All the best to you and live well!

  4. How important it is to exercise mentally. Most of the time we think about the gym to get fit. But mental health is equally important. I have set health goals when this pandemic begun. And I am glad to say I have stuck to them. That’s very encouraging to set more goals.

    physical activity is tied to our mental health. I has a sprained ankle and could not do physical activity for weeks. But I kept working on my laptop. However, when I had to think, a terrible headache came. And this would be every day. Once I begun exercising, I continued doing the same work on my laptop but the headaches disappeared. Could I conclude that the lack of exercise was causing the headaches?

    1. Hello Ann,  thanks for your comments and sharing your experience.  Congrats on sticking to your goals and ingraining the habit.  At the end of the day, empowering habits are the key to achieving your goals.    In my opinion and based on experience, I say that exercise is a contributing factor to reducing headaches.  Following your exercise session your body releases endorphins which are natural painkillers.   It will also reduce your stress and promotes quality sleep.  Both stress and poor quality sleep both trigger headaches and migraines.   Make sure to stay well hydrated throughout your day.   Keep it up and be well!

  5. Mental health is so important but what I found to be so amazing is the many people who overlook this part of their well-being, It is good to exercise our brains especially as we get older because brain exercise will help us to think clearly and will be sharper. Many people suffer memory loss as they get older but I believe that with mental exercise this activity can improve our memory.

  6. Very helpful information on how exercise can improve mental health. 

    You are right; when people think of exercise and dieting, most of them make a goal only for a specific event. Thus, they want something that works fast. In other words, they want a quick fix for their current issue. We often overlook the fact that although exercise and a healthy lifestyle reduce the risk of diabetes, hypertension, and other major health issues, it also has mental benefits that far outweigh the physical. 

    Indeed, it all starts with the right motivation which then moves to goal-setting. 

    By the way, you recommended a meal plan that consists of 50% carbs made up of green veggies, what about brown rice and wheat or whole grain bread? 

    1. Thanks for your comments Alice.  Yes, I would limit whole grain bread to 2 slices per day.  Brown rice is also fine at 60g or 1/3 cup for females.

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