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Exercise and Mental Health

Welcome to our Mood-E Blog

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November, 2021        

Written by, Cassie Cipolla 
Synergy eTherapy Summer 2021 Intern

Cassie graduated from the University of Kansas in 2020 with a Bachelor’s of General Studies in Psychology and a minor in Applied Behavioral Sciences. She plans to pursue a doctoral degree (PsyD) in Clinical Psychology and is specifically interested in a neuropsychology concentration.

Cassie previously worked as a Permanency Family Support Worker for KVC Health Systems in Kansas where she worked alongside case managers, therapists, and other mental health professionals to provide direct services to children and families within the child welfare system. 

Exercise and Mental Health


The conversation around exercise and it’s impact on physical health has been going on for decades. People are pretty well aware that engaging in exercise has numerous benefits on physical health including:

  • Helping you reach or maintain a healthy weight 
  • Building muscle
  • Lowering your cholesterol
  • Reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease
  • Regulating blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Strengthening your bones to help reduce the risk of fractures and falls

What’s seldom talked about (and what we’re taught very little about, if at all, in school) is the profoundly positive impact physical activity has on your mental health. Research shows that not only can exercise reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD, it can also enhance the well-being of those who are already mentally healthy. 


One highly noted benefit of exercise is the boost in mood it can provide for those who engage. This natural mood boost can be explained by a few factors:

  1. First, exercise decreases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Since stress can be accompanied by a wide range of mental and physical symptoms including worry, irritability, insomnia, aches, pains, and a weak immune system, the benefits of this are far-reaching. In addition to improving your mood, reducing feelings of stress can help eliminate unhealthy behaviors people often engage in, in an attempt to find relief. This could include gambling, excessive drinking, overeating, and using drugs, among many other behaviors. Overall, this can have profound effects on people who struggle with anxiety and depression by alleviating a variety of symptoms that often accompany those disorders
  2. Exercise also increases your endorphins, which are your body’s “feel good” chemicals.  This contributes to an enhancement in mood by providing a sense of euphoria and optimism, often referred to as a “high.” This is because the endorphins act as an analgesic, meaning that they diminish the perception of pain. They even bind to the same neuron receptors in the brain that some pain medications bind to. But what’s great about this “high” is that it’s completely natural, and doesn’t lead to addiction or dependence as other pain medications can.
  3. A third way exercise enhances your mood is by increasing the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels. In addition to boosting your mood, an increase in serotonin can help improve your appetite and sleep cycles, both of which are often negatively impacted by depression and anxiety. An increase in dopamine contributes to improved sleep patterns and appetite as well, and also impacts muscle movement, memory, concentration, and self-control – factors that are especially beneficial for people with ADHD.

Some other ways exercise promotes mental health are:

  • Increasing mental alertness
  • Boosting in creativity 
  • Reducing tension, helping you to feel more relaxed
  • Improving self – esteem and confidence 
  • Providing a temporary distraction from negative thoughts or emotions 
  • Increasing sex drive 
  • Providing an opportunity to socialize and get social support 

Tips for getting started:

    1. Start small. Engaging in even 15 minutes of physical activity can provide you with the benefits mentioned above.
    2. Schedule workouts at a time of day that your energy is highest.
    3. Engage in activities you enjoy! Exercise doesn’t have to mean running on a treadmill or lifting weights in the gym. Try tennis, do a yoga video, play Just Dance 3 in your living room, mow the grass, or do some gardening – whatever will make exercise feel most enjoyable for you! 
    4. Have a workout buddy or join a workout class to help hold you accountable and make it into a social activity too!
    5. Get active with your family. Play tag with the kids, walk the dog around the neighborhood, ride bikes to the park, the list goes on!
    6. Sneak in little activities throughout the day. Maybe use the stairs instead of the elevator or park in the pack of the lot to get in some extra steps!


Bruce, D. F., PhD. (2020). Exercise and Depression: Endorphins, Reducing Stress, and More. Retrieved from

Robinson, L., Segal, J., Ph.D, & Smith, M., M.A. (2021, August). The Mental Health Benefits fo Exercise. Retrieved from 

Saeed, D. M. (2021, August 15). Effects of Dopamine: How Dopamine Drives Human Behavior. Retrieved from 

Star, K., PhD. (2021, August 18). The Mental Health Benefits of Physical Exercise. Retrieved from 


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