The 5 Best Exercises For Mental Health and Mood Improvement

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best exercises for mental health and mood
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Last Updated on February 6, 2021 by Randy Withers, LCMHC

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best exercises for mental health and mood that you can start doing today.

You don’t need to train as hard as Serena Williams or Usain Bolt to benefit from exercise. Research shows that moderate exercise can work miracles for your self-esteem and mental health. And combining physical exercise with meditation can also help improve your state of mind.

A 2016 German medical study by R. A. Gotink published in the psychology journal Mindfulness demonstrated that mindful walking practiced in nature (i.e., walking while meditating in parks or beside rivers) is an effective method to “improve psychological functioning.”

The Best Exercises You Can Do To Boost Mental Health And Improve Mood
The Best Exercises You Can Do To Boost Mental Health and Improve Mood

Physical Exercise

There are many mental-health-related benefits derived from exercise, including:

  • Endorphins are released that improve your mood,
  • Your confidence and self-esteem are boosted,
  • Setting and achieving fitness goals improves motivation,
  • Focus and concentration are improved, and
  • You’ll sleep better.

How hard you exercise isn’t always the most important factor. In fact, a Swedish medical study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2014 conducted over 12½ years proved that an active lifestyle was more important for cardiovascular health and longevity than regular aerobic exercise.

Digging in your yard, doing housework, or walking through the park might be the most important part of your daily exercise routine.

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How much exercise?

However, the importance of an active lifestyle aside, the CDC recommends adults perform some aerobic exercise to stay healthy. In their National Health Statistics Report, they advise at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week.

What are some of the best exercises for mental health?

The wrong kind of exercise, or excessive amounts of exercise, can lead to other health issues. Your aim is to improve your mental health, not prepare for the next NASA space mission.

The best exercises for mental health are those that minimize collateral damage to your muscles and joints. These include swimming, cycling, mindful walking, and aerobic exercise classes.

Some people would also include running and weight training. However, these are more likely to lead to joint problems in later life and muscle strains.

If you enjoy a particular sport, like playing squash with your best friend, it becomes easier to incorporate an exercise routine into your calendar. However, the pressures of work and family may mean that you are restricted to exercising only at home. 

Home exercises

A great online resource I came across was a series of instructor-led aerobic exercise videos on the British National Health Service website. These will appeal to beginners with a variety of different levels and interests. Some of these include yoga to introduce a meditative element.

stationary biking is one of the best exercises for mental health

Stationary Cycling

Cycling is a great aerobic exercise that minimizes potential damage to joints and muscles while burning calories and providing a great cardio workout. If you’re short on time, you can use a stationary exercise bike at home. These often fold up for storage, meaning that you require very little space.



Yoga can be a great way to combine exercise with meditation. A recent medical study at Duke University published in Frontiers In Affective Disorders And Psychosomatic Research has demonstrated that practicing yoga helps to improve mental health conditions, like ADHD and depression.

The American Psychological Association has recommended yoga as a practice tool for dealing with depression, hyperactivity, ADHD, and sleep disorders. Adopting yoga poses in a serene environment alongside using an essential oils diffuser helps you to relax, alleviates stress, and lessens anxiety.

tai chi is one of the best exercises for mental health

Tai chi

Tai chi also combines physical exercise with meditation to provide similar results. A study at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts found that practicing this traditional form of Chinese shadow boxing results in reduced anxiety, stress, mood disturbance, and depression as well as improving self-esteem.  

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Mantras can be an effective relaxing technique. These are a short selection of verses you can recite when feeling under pressure to provide a counter-anxiety narrative. Some people like to recite Psalms, like “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”.

Others might choose a Buddhist mantra, like “Aum mani padme hūm”, which is variously translated by different traditions but means something like “Sacred lotus jewel enlighten me”. I think the soothing sound is more important than the debated translation.

The point is to recognize that “This too shall pass”. The current stressful circumstances will not last forever, so calm down and await the inevitable return to normality. If you fear an imminent panic attack, take a deep breath and meditate on a happy memory or your loved ones.

get some rest

Sleep Is Important, Too

In this modern world, we often put too much pressure on ourselves. A change of scene or pace will be beneficial to your mental health.

If you’re exercising, you must increase your sleep to compensate. Too little sleep causes a loss of focus, mental fatigue, and mental health problems.


You’re not going to change your mind and body overnight. However, if you don’t start now, you never will.

Make an action plan to spend 30 minutes each day doing moderate aerobic exercise and you’ll soon feel the benefits. The best exercises for mental health and mood are also some of the most simple. Get started today!


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Robert Baker

I had the good fortune to be born in a first-world country at a time when fast international travel became possible for average people. Having shared meals with families in huts with no electricity and dirt floors, I appreciate the "little" things that my fellow Englishmen take for granted. Over the years I've worked in many different fields. I've been an archaeologist in the Scottish Hebrides, an accountant in London, and taught English in China. However, I've never enjoyed any other job as much as writing.

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