7 Mental & Emotional Benefits of Exercise


Unless you have been living under a rock, you likely know that regular exercise is beneficial for your physical health offering a host of benefits like helping you manage your weight, reducing the risks of many illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, improving longevity, increasing muscle mass and so many more.  But did you know that exercise is not only good for your physical well-being but it provides a plethora of mental & emotional benefits as well? Read on for 7 extra reasons to keep your body in motion.

fitnessfoodiestl smiling after reaching the peak of the hike at castlewood state park
Feeling the adrenaline high after reaching the top of Lone Wolf Trail at Castlewood State Park

1. Exercise can help you feel happier and more positive

A great workout can put you in the best mood.   And that’s because when you exercise, your body releases endorphins which are essentially feel-good chemicals that give you a natural “high”.  Think of these as your body’s natural painkillers.  Personally, this is my favorite part of exercise and absolutely keeps me committed to staying active regularly – I’m literally high on life! And there is no downside to this drug – just pure post-workout “euphoria”.  

2. Exercise can boost social skills & help you meet new people

Some people enjoy exercising solo – and that’s ok too- but for many,  an added benefit of exercise is it allows you meet other people with similar goals or interests.  Perhaps its the dance-kid in me but I love taking group fitness classes.  I find working out with other people helps keep me more accountable and motivated.  Plus it helps you feel apart of a community & meet new people.  Try bringing a friend with you on your next hike (or next weight lifting session) and you may find that having a workout buddy can help you stay motivated longer. 

fitnessfoodiestl and cycle bar trainer smiling after intense cycling workout
Group fitness classes are a great way to meet new people in your community. Meet Catherine, one of the incredible instructors at Cycle Bar.

3. Exercise eases the guilt of eating your favorite foods

Exercise speeds up your metabolism which is the rate in which you burn calories.  You may notice feeling hungrier after an intense workout session because your metabolism has sped up.  If your goal is to lose weight, you shouldn’t consume more calories, just let your body burn through the extras already stored as fat as a way to lean out your physique.  However, if losing weight isn’t a top goal of yours, you may find that working out allows you to indulge in the foods you love without the guilt. 

Personally, I love to eat-out and I have a weak spot for homemade sweets & seasoned French fries, but if I’m not exercising regularly, I start to feel bad about eating all the things I want. I also start to feel physically gross when I don’t exercise.  Have you ever felt flabby?  Or perhaps your clothes start to feel tighter and less comfortable – that’s the worst feeling!  Exercise for me is sort of like a “get out of jail free card”, if I do it, then I can enjoy eating even more!  It’s a win-win.

women eating new york style pizza, cheese pull
Enjoying an extra cheesy slice at East Coast Pizza.

4. Exercise can help you think more clearly & creatively

When you exercise, the blood is pumping faster and stronger to all parts of your body, including your brain.  Increased blood flow to your brain brings more nutrients, energy and oxygen – all of which all help improve your brain’s performance.  When I am feeling overwhelmed and my thoughts are jumbled, I find a cardio session like cycling or running is the best remedy for me.  I can go from being unable to make a decision to having clarity after a workout.  I find exercise helps clear the clutter in my mind & allows my creative juices to get flowing.  Some of my best ideas happen in the shower, post-workout!

hands holding a lit up lightbulb to symbolize ideas and brain power after exercise
Exercise increases blood flow to the brain allowing you to think more clearly and creatively.

5. Exercise can reduce your stress & anxiety levels

Research by the American Psychological Association has shown that stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine are lowered after exercise.  That combined with the release of the feel-good endorphins can help people reduce stress and anxiety.  In fact, exercise has been shown to be even more successful at reducing anxiety than a bubble bath, and on the same level as a Swedish massage. When I feel pent up about a situation at home or at work, nothing makes me feel less anxious than hitting the gym hard.  It allows me to constructively take my frustrations out – whether it be by cycling a little faster, lifting a heavier weight or punching a bag bit harder.  When you give your body something else to focus on, like your breathing or your technique, you can relieve tension in the body & mind and actually relax.

woman working at computer looking anxious and stressed, pencil chewing.
Sweat-out your worries with exercise, which helps reduce the body’s stress hormones.

6. Exercise can build your confidence and self-esteem

After you start exercising regularly, you might start to notice progress– like being able to run 5 minutes longer or lift 2 more pounds overhead.   Achieving these small milestones can help you feel more accomplished and confident in your abilities, which in turn boosts your self-esteem.  You also might start to notice physical improvements to your body, like your pants feeling less snug or your calf muscles looking toned, which will also help build your confidence. In my opinion, nothing feels better than knowing you are making progress and becoming a better version of yourself. 

A lesser known fun fact about exercise is that it can also boost your sex life, which can do a number for your confidence levels! Remember how we talked about how exercise improves blood flow??  Well, not only does that increased blood flow go to your brain….it goes all throughout your body which is important for erections in men and equally important for lubrication for women. 

cycling machine statistics show watts at 217 an achievement for the author
Pushing myself to achieve 200+ Watts on the bike was a goal of mine when I first started Cycling. It felt so good to reach & exceed this goal.

7. Exercise can improve your sleep quality. 

Do you sometimes find yourself tossing and turning?  Sleepless nights are often attributed to stress and the inability to turn off your brain.  Given the benefits exercise has to reducing stress, many people also notice they sleep better after working out.  Research has shown that exercise can help you not only fall asleep faster but also improve sleep quality.  It makes sense that when your brain & body are active during the day, you will need that recovery time overnight even more.  One caveat though, for the best results experts suggest not exercising too close to bed time as that may have opposite results. 

woman resting in bed after intense workout
The body needs time to recover after a good workout, a better nights sleep might be an added bonus.

Exercise isn’t just a workout for the body but also for the mind – and you will see physical, emotional and mental benefits.  I love the mind/body connection that exercise creates and I find the mental & emotional benefits keep me coming back for more! As mom of 3 kids, carving out this “ME” time to exercise can sometimes feel challenging & impossible, but I know I am better mom for it.  I’m calmer, happier, more ready to seize the day.  I am the best version of myself when I am exercising regularly.  I hope you take away a few new tips on why exercise is important not just for your physical well being but for your mental & emotional health as well. 

What are the biggest reasons you work out?  Comment below – I’d love to hear your thoughts!


aka The FitnessFoodieSTL

3 responses to “7 Mental & Emotional Benefits of Exercise”

  1. […] has always given me a release and makes me feel better both mentally and physically.  It’s one form of “ME” time that I really look forward to.  Exercise seems to be one […]

  2. […] mix it up and add some variety back into your workout regimen.  Fitness variety can keep you both mentally and physically challenged.  If you are craving a break from your monotonous workout, here are 6 ways you can add some fun […]

  3. Karen Flad avatar
    Karen Flad

    I agree 100% and it is a lifestyle and part of who I am! The value of health is so important and becomes I get to not I have to !

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  1. I agree 100% and it is a lifestyle and part of who I am! The value of health is so important and becomes I get to not I have to !

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