Mental health

In the past, the majority of fitness research focused on the physical benefits of exercise. There is now increasing evidence demonstrating that physical activity improves mental health.

Physical exercise has been linked to reduced levels of anxiety and depression, and increases in levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the body – chemicals which have been associated with elevated mood. Mental health can also be affected by increased stress and a lack of sleep. One of the best ways to combat this is through regular physical exercise. Feeling isolated or alone can also be detrimental to metal wellbeing but YMCA exercise programs promote social integration, active lifestyles and a sense of belonging.

The following tips should get you off to a good start to increasing and sustaining physical activity:

  • Keep it simple
    There is little difference in the levels of mental health between moderately and highly active people. A highly detailed and demanding exercise program can be daunting, so keep it simple to begin with and you'll be more motivated to continue.
  • Get moving
    Start with walking, slow jogging or cycling and some light weight workouts. Just choose something you enjoy and build up your physical activity at a steady pace. A walk can also do wonders for the brain – it can help to clear the mind and is a great way to de-stress.
  • Book it in
    Make an appointment with a fitness professional at your local YMCA to discuss your goals and design an exercise program. Our staff will provide you with support, education and motivation needed to make a difference.
  • Take a mate
    Go for a walk or a bike ride with a friend. Working out with a friend or family member regularly is not only a great way to increase social connectivity, but will increase your motivation to keep exercising. A regular chat with a friend can also decrease stress and anxiety whilst elevating mood.
  • Be classy
    Ask for a group exercise timetable at your local Y and try a class to keep your workouts interesting. Group exercise is also a great way to increase feelings of social connection and will get your body ready for a good night’s sleep.

The bottom line is that most of us feel good after exercise. This is due to an increase in natural chemicals and the sense of achievement and social connections that exercise can create. Regular physical exercise can increase self-esteem, reduce stress and promote restful sleep – all of which are integral to your mental wellbeing.

So view physical exercise as a preventative activity that inhibits adverse physical and mental conditions – it helps us become healthier and happier both physically and mentally.

So get active, and start exercising your body and mind in a positive way.


Corbin, C., & Pangrazi, B. (Eds.) (1996). What you need to know about the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health. Physical Activity and Fitness Research Digest, July, Series 2(6), p. 4.

John Briley "Feel Good After a Workout? Well, Good for You." The Washington Post Tuesday, April 25, 2006;

James A. Blumenthal, "Effects of Exercise Training on Older Patients With Major Depression". Archives of Internal Medicine, October 25, 1999

Michael Babyak, Exercise Treatment for Major Depression: Maintenance of Therapeutic Benefit at 10 Months. Psychosomatic Medicine, September/October 2000.