Physical Activity Offers Benefits to Our Mental Health

By Fay Smith

This National Chiropractic Health Month, American Chiropractic Association (ACA) members and chiropractors nationwide are encouraging people to “Keep Moving!” by striving to add more movement to their daily lives. Regular movement has more than just physical benefits, though. Learn how physical activity can also benefit your mental health.

There is a growing body of research on the benefits of physical activity to a person’s mental health and overall well-being.

Research shows that general fitness has a positive effect on the brain and that resistance and aerobic exercises may also enhance mood.1 Studies even suggest that physical activity can play a role in managing mild mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.2

Physical activities may produce additional benefits that contribute to our mental wellness in the form of reducing stress, improving sleep, increasing mental alertness, and enhancing confidence.

Reduce Stress

Physical activities or daily exercises lower the body’s stress hormone levels and stimulate endorphin production.3 Endorphins are brain chemicals known to be the body’s natural pain killer and mood booster.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that physical activities can help reduce short-term anxiety in adults.4

Exercise also stimulates communication between your sympathetic and central nervous system, resulting in an improved response to stress.5

Improve Sleep

Physical activity has several positive affects on sleep. Aerobic exercises have been shown to enhance a person’s slow-wave or deep sleep. This type of sleep encourages body and mind rejuvenation.6

Doing physical activities also increases body temperature, resulting in a calmer mind and a more well-regulated circadian rhythm.5

Since exercise is known to help reduce weight gain, it can also help reduce symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition when breathing stops involuntarily during sleep.7

Increase Mental Alertness

Staying active induces oxygen and nutrient delivery to various brain tissues that help you stay focused and enhance your concentration.5 Physical activity also stimulates the process of neurogenesis or new brain cell production.8

Enhance Confidence

Regular physical activity can increases your stamina and strength and may even enhance your self-image. Many people experience a self-esteem boost with associated weight loss that may result from regular work outs.

Following an exercise routine is also a great way to practice discipline. It encourages you to have a sense of control over your body.

Physical Activities That Can Boost Mental Health

According to the Mental Health Foundation, doing moderate-intensity physical activities is recommended for adults.9 You should strive do these exercises weekly for about 30 minutes a day.
To get started on a fitness regimen, decide what type of physical activity you would like to engage in. It may be a task that you do every day at home or exercises that you can do with friends or family. Below are some examples of physical activities you can do to improve physical and mental wellness:

  • Engaging in sports
  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging 
  • Swimming
  • Doing chores
  • Gardening
  • Cycling
  • Stretching
  • Dancing

Consider your current physical health when you do these activities. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, especially if you have health conditions or other concerns.

Reviewed by the ACA Editorial Advisory Board. This information is for educational purposes. It is not a replacement for treatment or consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have specific questions, contact your doctor of chiropractic. To find an ACA chiropractor near you, click here.

Fay Smith is a freelance contributor to Hands Down Better.


  1. Haeger A., Costa, A. S., Schulz, J. B., and Ritz, K., Cerebral changes improved by physical activity during cognitive decline: A systematic review on MRI studies. Neuroimage Clin. 2019;23:101933.
  2. Paluska, S.A., Schwenk, T.L. Physical Activity and Mental Health. Sports Med 29, 167–180 (2000).
  3. Exercising to Relax, Harvard Health Publishing, accessed April 2021
  4. Benefits of Physical Activity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed April 2021
  5. 5 Mental Benefits of Exercise, Walden University, accessed April 2021
  6. Exercising for Better Sleep, John Hopkins Medicine, accessed April 2021
  7. Exercise and Sleep, Sleep Foundation, accessed April 2021
  8. Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills, Harvard Health Publishing, accessed April 2021
  9. How to Look After Your Mental Health Using Exercise, Mental Health Foundation, accessed April 2021

More Resources

National Council on Aging: Staying Active in Cold Weather