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Your Brain On Exercise: Fighting Mental Illness with Fitness

By Trevor MacDonald

When we think about tackling mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and even stress, most people think of medications. But in reality, nature is our best source of mental, physical, and emotional health.  Staying active can help fight mental illnesses. Your brain on exercise is a beautiful thing.  Getting your body moving does much more than just help you lose weight.

Fitness helps fight mental illness because it increases the “feel good” chemicals in your brain.  These chemicals help you feel better about yourself and help if you are going through addiction recovery.

Exercise Makes Your Brain Happy

Exercise helps your brain in many ways, including providing more blood flow to essential regions, increasing neurological signals that make you feel good, and increasing your focus.

The hippocampus is responsible for our memory, emotions, and learning. Many people who struggle with mental illness actually have reduced r brain activity in the hippocampus, which can lead to depression and anxiety. In fact, many antidepressants target the hippocampus and help increase neurogenesis and serotonin production.

But you don’t have to reach for pills to make you feel better. Exercise can lead to the creation of new hippocampal neurons, leading to increased neurogenesis in this region. All of this is fancy talk to say that exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy, naturally.


Exercise Can Help With Addiction Recovery

Unfortunately, many people who struggle with mental illness also struggle with addiction.   This can lead to a never-ending cycle of drug use, feeling anxious about using drugs and wanting to use more drugs. So for those who are starting or continuing their rehabilitation, exercise can help benefit addiction recovery. Moving forward and being successful living a sober lifestyle is all about health and wellness and exercise enables you to align with people that have this wellness as a similar interest and shape your new routine on exercise and eating well. Your mental, emotional, and physical health are all intertwined and when you’re exercising and eating well, you will feel much better and more in control of your recovery.

Exercise Can Help You Feel Better About Yourself

It’s no surprise that working out regularly has its physical benefits, too. Even if gaining muscle, looking good in the mirror and fighting mental illness isn’t a priority for you, it can’t hurt either. People who exercise regularly like what they see when they look at themselves.  This sense of self-confidence and healthy body image translates into our mental health, too. If you think you look good, you’ll feel just as good!

Exercise is a Natural Stress Reliever

Stress can exacerbate mental illness and increase depression and anxiety. But instead of turning to drugs or alcohol to relieve your stress, turn to exercise because it’s been proven to do an even better job. Exercise gives you a chance to just be with yourself and your body and feeling the pounding of the cement, the churn of water as you swim laps, or the heaviness of the weight in your arms almost instantly re-routes your thoughts from stressful ones to happy ones. In addition, exercise literally changes our brain chemistry, as mentioned earlier.

Group Fitness Helps You Make Friends

If you think of Jane Fonda and step classes when you think of group fitness, you need to get into the 21st century.



Group fitness is taking the exercise world by storm because it’s an amazing way to keep yourself accountable, try new workouts and meet new people. Nearly every gym has a number of classes, from weight training to Zumba.   Once you find a class you like, you’ll never want to workout alone. There’s something amazing about standing in a room with 20 other people with the same goals, passions, and dedication as you. This sense of camaraderie and teamwork does wonders for mental health conditions.


These are just a few of the ways that exercise can help fight mental illness. Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise helps you sleep better, have more energy, meet new people, and focus on bettering yourself. So instead of turning to pills or alcohol to fight your depression or anxiety, get outside or get to the gym and start moving!


Trevor is a freelance content writer and a recovering addict & alcoholic who’s been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.


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