Part 2: Movement & Mental Health

May is Mental Health Month and we are currently in a series on how nutrition, exercise and sleep influence mental health. 

Exercise plays a crucial role in maintaining and improving mental health. Engaging in regular physical activity has been shown to have numerous positive effects on mental well-being. Here are some ways in which exercise can benefit mental health. 

In this blog, you will learn six ways that daily movement and exercise will improve mental health. 

Reducing Depression & Anxiety

Anxiety and depression are on the rise for adults and teenagers. The CDC released that 57% of teenage girls felt “persistent hopelessness or sadness,” and 30% have seriously considered suicide.  People who exercise have a lower risk of depression. Physical activity releases endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals in the brain. 

According to Dr. Ben Singh, and his research, exercise is 1.5 times more effective at reducing moderate-to-mild depression, stress, and anxiety than medication or cognitive behavior therapy. 

The next question is how much exercise? 

JAMA released a study showing those who exercised 75 minutes per week had a decreased risk by 18%, and those who exercised for 2.5 hours per week had a decreased risk by 25%.

How much is 2.5 hours of exercise?

It’s only 21 minutes per day or two 10-minute walks after meals. 

Boosts Mood & Self-Confidence

When’s the last time you completed a hard task? How did you feel after it was over? 

It might be hard to push yourself during a tough workout but you always feel better after. As you gain consistency and momentum, you start to accomplish things you never thought you could which improves your mood and confidence. 

Regular exercise can also improve body image and self-esteem, leading to a more positive outlook on life.

Reduce Stress

In order to show up as your best self in all areas of life, work and home, you need an outlet to manage stress. 

Short-term stress has been defined as stress that lasts for a period of minutes to hours, and chronic stress as stress that persists for several hours per day for weeks or months. Our body is able to respond and react to short bursts of stress but extended persons of stress can increase the risk of chronic disease and weight gain. 

One of the best ways to manage stress is to get outside and get moving to increase endorphins that act as a natural stress reliever and decrease the stress hormone cortisol.

Improved Cognitive Function

Exercise has been shown to enhance cognitive function, including improved memory, attention, and overall brain health.

Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, which promotes the growth of new neurons and improves neural connections. Regular exercise has also been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline and certain mental disorders. 

Research shows that a sedentary lifestyle is one of the most common preventable risk factors for developing Alzheimder’s disease. Higher physical activity is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s development.

Improved Sleep Quality

Physical activity increases the time spent in deep sleep, which is essential for restorative rest. 

Better sleep contributes to improved mental health, increased energy levels, and better overall functioning. It is recommended to not exercise right before bed as exercise increases core body temperature and you need your body temperature to decrease for proper sleep

Social Connection

Social isolation is defined as limited social networks, contact, connections, or lack of social activities and increases the risk of dementia, depression, and cardiovascular disease. 

Simply put, we weren’t meant to do life alone. 

Group fitness classes and exercises in groups allow people to find support, connectedness, and a sense of belonging. 

As a CrossFit gym owner and CrossFit athlete for over 13 years, I can say, with first-hand experience, the magic of CrossFit is in the power of the community. You come for the workouts but stay for the people.

You might start an exercise routine to get in shape or lose weight but once you find benefits for your mental health and wellbeing, you fall in love with the journey.

Are you overwhelmed by all of the different diets out there?

Are you looking for an expert coach to create a plan that’s specifically for you and, more importantly, provide you support and accountability every step of the way?

We would love to help you. 

Find a Healthy Steps Nutrition Coach near you HERE ( or apply to work with a Registered Dietitian at Healthy Steps Nutrition HQ. 

Did you miss part 1 on food, mood and your mental health? 

Check it out HERE.

It’s important to note that while food can play a role in supporting mental health, it is not a substitute for professional help. If you’re experiencing mental health issues, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

WATCH & LISTEN – Food Is Fuel; Performance Nutrition – HERE

READ – 3 Nutrition Myths Debunked! Don’t be tricked by #2 – HERE

WATCH & LISTEN – A Beginners Guide To Meal Prep – HERE

Instant Access To Free Nutrition Seminar Recording

Nutrition Made Simple Seminar Recording With Nicole Aucoin

About the author

Nicole Aucoin, MS, RD, LD/N

Founder, Healthy Steps Nutrition
Home of CrossFit HSN & HSN Mentoring

Author of Nourish & Healthy Kids Cookbook

Author of The Basics of Nutrition Coaching Course, CrossFit Preferred Nutrition Course

CrossFit Level 2 Trainer