how does exercise improve mental health

Combine movement and meditation to support your mental health

Are you sitting down right now?

Here's why you might want to stand up to read this: A minutes of physical activity can support your mental health, improving your mood and ability to handle stress.

Keep reading to learn more, including tips for how to incorporate a little more movement into your day even when you don't have a lot of time. 

The benefits of physical movement for stress management

Physical activity has numerous benefits for both your physical and mental health. There are many studies that show how exercise can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, boost self-esteem, and improve overall mood.

One reason why physical activity is so beneficial for mental health is that it releases endorphins in your brain. These chemicals act as natural mood boosters, providing a sense of euphoria and relaxation. 

Exercise also reduces the levels of stress hormones like cortisol, which is commonly known as the stress hormone. When cortisol levels remain high for extended periods of time, it can lead to negative effects on both your physical and mental health. However, when you engage in regular exercise, your cortisol levels decrease, leaving you feeling more relaxed and calm.

In addition to the chemical changes that occur during exercise, physical activity can also help you develop a sense of accomplishment. When you set goals for yourself, such as running a certain distance or lifting a certain weight, you experience a sense of pride and satisfaction when you achieve them. This feeling can translate into other areas of your life, boosting your self-confidence, self-esteem, and motivation.

Overall, incorporating regular physical activity into your routine is an effective way to support your mental health. Whether it's going for a walk outside or taking a fitness class at the gym, any form of movement can provide important benefits for your mind and body.

How sleep, exercise, and meditation aid in mental health

It's no secret that good sleep also plays a significant role in your overall mental health. And if you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, regular exercise may be just what you need to improve your sleep quality and quantity.

Research has shown that exercise can help regulate your body's circadian rhythm, which is responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycles. When you engage in physical activity during the day, your body is better able to recognize when it's time to wind down at night and prepare for sleep.

Moreover, regular exercise can also help reduce symptoms of sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea. In one study, participants who engaged in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise four times per week experienced improved their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

And when you sleep better, you feel better.

One word of caution: While exercise can be beneficial for improving sleep quality and quantity, it's best to avoid vigorous activity close to bedtime. This is because intense exercise can actually make it harder for your body to relax and wind down at night.

Movement and meditation that supports mental health

There are many different types of physical activities that can provide mental health benefits. Some popular and accessible options include the following:


Yoga is a mind-body practice that involves physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation. It’s been shown to help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve sleep quality, and increase overall feelings of well-being. One study found that practicing yoga for 12 weeks resulted in significant improvements in mood and anxiety levels.


Walking is a low-impact exercise that can be done almost anywhere. It's an excellent way to get moving and enjoy the outdoors while also supporting your mental health. More specifically, it’s been shown to boost mood, reduce stress, and improve cognitive function. And if you're looking for a way to infuse mindfulness into your walks, check out the Balance app's Walking meditation. You'll choose where you're walking—whether it's in a park, city, suburb, indoors, or somewhere else—and then receive guidance tailored to your surroundings.


Dancing is a fun and social way to get your body moving while also supporting your mental health, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, improving self-esteem, and promoting feelings of relaxation. Whether you prefer taking a dance class or dancing around your living room, incorporating regular dance sessions into your routine can have significant mental health benefits.

At the end of the day, there are countless types of physical activities that can support your mental health—this is just a sampling. Finding an activity that you enjoy and incorporating it into your routine can be an effective way to boost your mood, reduce your stress, and improve your overall well-being.

Finding movement and meditation routines you can stick to

As just mentioned, one of the most important factors in incorporating physical activity into your routine is finding a form of exercise that you truly enjoy. While any type of movement can provide benefits for your mental health, choosing an activity that feels like a chore or obligation can make it difficult to stay engaged over the long-term.

When you find an enjoyable form of exercise, on the other hand, it becomes easier to stick with it over time. Whether it's playing a sport you love, dancing to your favorite music, or taking a scenic hike, engaging in physical activity that brings you joy can make it feel less like work and more like a fun hobby.

Additionally, when you enjoy the exercise you're doing, it's more likely that you'll want to continue doing it regularly. Consistency is key when it comes to reaping the mental health benefits of physical activity, so by making exercise a regular part of your routine, you can create positive habits that support your overall well-being.

So if running on a treadmill isn't your thing, don't force yourself to do it in the name of fitness. Instead, try out different types of activities until you find one that feels fun and engaging for you. By prioritizing enjoyment in your exercise routine, you'll be setting yourself up for long-term success and better mental health.

Incorporating movement into your daily routine

It's also important to understand that incorporating movement into your daily routine doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming. There are many simple strategies you can use to add more physical activity to your day. 

Here are some ideas:

  1. Take the stairs instead of the elevator: This is a simple way to get your heart pumping and burn some extra calories throughout the day.
  2. Walk or bike to work: If you live close enough, consider walking or biking to work instead of driving or taking public transportation. This is a great way to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine while also reducing your carbon footprint.
  3. Stand up and stretch regularly: If you have a desk job, make sure to stand up and stretch every hour or so. This can help improve circulation, reduce stiffness, and prevent muscle soreness.
  4. Use a standing desk: Standing desks are becoming increasingly popular in workplaces around the world. Using a standing desk can help reduce sedentary behavior and promote better posture.
  5. Take active breaks: Instead of scrolling through social media during your lunch break, take a walk outside or do some stretching exercises at your desk.

By incorporating these simple strategies into your daily routine, you can add more physical activity to your day without having to set aside extra time for exercise. Remember that even small amounts of movement throughout the day can add up over time and provide important benefits for both your physical and mental health.

Further support your mental health with Balance

Incorporating regular physical activity into your daily routine can have a significant impact on your mental health and overall well-being. And remember: Whether you prefer yoga, walking, dancing, or any other type of movement, finding an enjoyable form of exercise is key to long-term engagement.

To further support your journey towards better mental health, consider downloading the Balance app on iOS or Android. Balance offers countless research-backed tools to help you manage stress and improve your overall wellness. And with the first year always free, there's no reason not to give it a try and see how it can support your mental health goals. 

Start prioritizing your well-being today by incorporating regular physical activity and exploring the resources available through Balance. Happy moving!

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