top of page

Mental Health & Exercise

I'm so glad that we speak more openly about mental health these days, its finally becoming a less of a taboo subject. Yet, it’s what makes us who we are, how we act, decisions we make and how we see ourselves in the world we live in. It’s the big elephant in the room.


I can’t even count how many times my Pilates mat has saved me and been my therapist. Its where I find my peace and stress release. An opportunity to forget the outside world, my troubles, responsibilities, and a chance to focus on the present moment – becoming self-aware of what I’m physically and mentally doing at that exact time. A moment of respite whilst working on becoming a better me.

The irony is - It’s all me. My Pilates mat isn’t speaking to me, giving me advice, or comforting me whatsoever. It all lays in the decisions and actions I make (literally creating) and the effects that follows. It all starts from self – the conscious mental part of me.


I will admit and I’m aware that I speak mostly about mobility, strength, flexibility, joints, and muscles in my teachings, and it’s my clients who tend to express how attending regular sessions makes them feel. Just like my regular client Brenda stated above. I get to witness a client’s confidence, commitment to self-growth completely blossom and honestly - it’s the best part of the job.

When I see a client who has worked hard and suddenly achieves a movement (see Task Masters below), they couldn’t do just a few months ago – it’s the smile on their faces that hits the spot. It’s the way they walk out, and their confident posture they now own when they return the following class. It’s the transformations from being quiet and nervous when they joined, to all of us joking about how I need to purchase a whistle to stop the chatter and laughter, so we can start the session. - that human connection is priceless and as social beings – we are feeding our wellbeing simply by attending an exercise class.

If you have been with me for a while, you will know I’m into science (lol) and knowledge is power. Being mindful and aware of what is going on inside and outside of ourselves is an effective way for us to manage our mental health. So, I want to highlight the effect physical activities have on our mental health and to break it down in simple, short terms.

HAPPY HORMONES – Serotonin, Dopamine & Endorphins

Exercise increases serotonin levels in the body – a neurotransmitter which conciliate happiness, satisfaction, and optimism. Dopamine plays a role in the ‘reward system’, giving a sense of pleasure and motivation. Endorphins releases into the blood stream as well - another ‘feel good’ hormone. All those good feels!

STRESS HORMONE (and anxiety) – Cortisol

Cortisol is an important and primal stress hormone produced in the adrenal and endocrine glands and is a part of our vital survival instincts - `fight or flight’ system. Too much stress and anxiety, however, can cause a plethora of physical and psychological problems. Stress is found to have a negative effect on an individual mental health.

In 2018 The Mental Health Foundation carried out the largest stress study in the UK - showing that 61% reported feeling anxious as well and 51% reported feeling depressed.

Exercise helps reducing the cortisol levels in the body and counteract abnormalities associated with anxiety disorders.


The hormone Endorphins mentioned above also acts as a natural painkiller, like morphine. Yes, a natural self-produced source of opioid.


Physical activity reduces physical tension, reduces fatigue, improves concentration, and sleep. Sleep has a close relationship to mental health, lack of sleep leads to tiredness, difficulty coping with daily life and worry, which in turn brings on more sleep problems. Exercise can help towards stopping this vicious cycle.

TASK MASTERS – Confidence and Self-esteem

Humans have an instinct to grow by approaching novelty, mastering new challenges, and integrating life experiences into their self – concept. It makes us feel good about ourselves, feeds our self-governance, competence, self-esteem, and confidence. This is a big part in moving towards wellness.

*Note that there is a huge amount of research in place between physical activity and mental health and although exercise can be just as good as antidepressants for some people, exercise alone is not enough for those suffering with severe depression and/or anxiety. Someone with clinical depression should always seek professional advice and guidance from their GP. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global `burden’ of disease) WHO 2018)

This post is also not claiming that exercise alone can cure mental health disorders. As commonly the case – it takes a combination of approaches and medical intervention (i.e., medication, therapy, and exercise) to find a successful outcome.

834 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page