A happy couple in running gear exercise outdoors A happy couple in running gear exercise outdoors

4 ways to boost the mental health benefits of your next workout

Posted: JUN 15, 2021

Most people associate exercise with physical health — but what’s good for the body is good for the mind. Regular workouts can help improve your mood, sharpen your mind, and help you feel healthier and happier overall.

Being physically active is an easy, natural way to help improve mental health — from easing symptoms of depression and anxiety to managing stress, sleeping better, and more. In fact, people who exercise have 43% fewer poor mental health days than people who don’t.1 And many people see immediate improvements in their mood after a workout.2

Even better? There are simple things you can do to maximize these mind-body benefits.

Run or walk mindfully

Next time you’re walking or running, try adding mindfulness into the mix. All you need to do is focus your mind on your physical movement and the present moment. Instead of listening to music, tune into the sound of your feet hitting the ground, or the rhythm of your breathing. And when your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath and body. One study showed that participating in both mindfulness meditation and exercise reduced symptoms of depression by 40% in just 8 weeks.3

Take it outside

When you’re feeling stressed or dwelling on negative thoughts, head for the hills. Levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, drop by more than 20% after people spend 20 to 30 minutes in nature.4 Research also shows that walking in nature can help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety — and cultivate peace of mind.5

Focus on your breath

Yoga stretches the body and strengthens the core. It also places tremendous focus on deep, conscious breathing, which can help tame stress and calm the mind. Many people find that yoga helps them feel more peaceful and positive, and it’s proven to improve sleep quality and relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Even better? Most people feel better immediately following a yoga session — and with regular practice, the mind-body benefits actually increase over time.6

Join a team

While all workouts have mental health benefits, people who participate in team sports report the highest number of good mental health days.7 That’s because team sports like soccer, basketball, and baseball combine physical activity with social activity — 2 things that can work wonders for the mind, body, and spirit. Social connection is essential to good mental health — people with strong social ties tend to be happier and healthier overall. And the quality time spent with others can be just as helpful as the exercise, especially for people living with a mental health condition.

Note: Remember to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 safety guidelines on when to wear a mask outside and how to safely participate in team sports.

Now that you know how moving your body can benefit your mind, you have even more reasons to make exercise part of your healthy routine. Why not try some of these ideas and see what works for you.


1Sammi R. Chekroud et al., “Association Between Physical Exercise and Mental Health in 1.2 Million Individuals in the USA Between 2011 and 2015: A Cross-Sectional Study,” Lancet Psychiatry, August 8, 2018.

2JD Meyer et al., “Influence of Exercise Intensity for Improving Depressed Mood in Depression: A Dose-Response Study,” Behavior Therapy, July 2016.

3BL Alderman et al., “MAP Training: Combining Meditation and Aerobic Exercise Reduces Depression and Rumination While Enhancing Synchronized Brain Activity,” Translational Psychiatry, February 2, 2016.

4MaryCarol R. Hunter et al., “Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers,” Frontiers in Psychology, April 4, 2019.

5Gregory N. Bratman et al., “The Benefits of Nature Experience: Improved Affect and Cognition,” Landscape and Urban Planning, June 2015.

6Tammy M. Scott et al., “Psychological Function, Iyengar Yoga, and Coherent Breathing: A Randomized Controlled Dosing Study,” Journal of Psychiatric Practice, November 2019.

7See note 1.

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For more mood-boosting ideas you can try right now, check out our library of self-care resources.