Why exercise might contribute to the treatment of poor mental health

Why exercise might contribute to the treatment of poor mental health

Mental health services in the UK are coming under enormous pressure, as more and more of us struggle with our mental health. Experts are warning that there is a ‘ticking time bomb’ of mental health referrals in the wake of Covid-19, with rates of anxiety, stress and depression increasing during the lockdown. As we look to the post-pandemic future, could exercise be one of the best ways to treat poor mental health?

An emerging mental health crisis

According to a study carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), reported mental health problems increased by 8.1% during lockdown. Another social study by University College London found that while levels of worry and anxiety fell once lockdown measures were eased, they remained higher than they were before the advent of the Coronavirus. There is also some evidence to suggest that mental health conditions could emerge or re-emerge further down the line, meaning that more people than ever will require treatment.

While exercise may not be a ‘magic bullet’ for curing mental health problems, it can certainly contribute to recovery and there are a range of conditions it can help with.


Depression can be a debilitating illness, affecting every aspect of someone’s life, from relationships to whether they can continue working. Exercise is a great help for those suffering from depression because it allows them to focus on the physical over the mental, even if it’s only for a short amount of time. When we exercise, the brain releases the so-called ‘happy hormones’ of serotonin and dopamine, which have a positive effect on our moods and give us that emotional high we feel after a workout. Working out can, therefore, be both escapism and have a similar hormonal effect as prescribed medication.


Covid-19 has increased rates of anxiety, another condition which can have a huge impact on a person’s everyday life. In the most severe cases it can make tasks such as leaving the house seem impossible, but exercise is something which can, thankfully, be done anywhere that feels safe and comfortable. The endorphins released by the brain when we work out have been shown to lower feelings of anxiety. Many people who suffer from panic attacks and other forms of anxiety have reported finding exercise therapeutic, as it enables them to concentrate on something other than the workings of their minds.


Stress can be triggered by all sorts of things, and there can be no doubt the past few months have been stressful for many. Stress is managed by the prefrontal cortex of the brain, and brain scans have found those who take regular exercise have lower levels of stress than those who lead a more sedentary life. Exercise is a great way to release tension, especially if it’s a high-impact form of working out such as HIIT or boxing.

There has never been a more urgent time to look after our own mental health and the mental health of others. With the NHS and mental health services already stretched, the potential crisis cannot be managed through medication alone and exercise is going to be a vital tool in the recovery process of many.

MVP operates workplace-based fitness programmes which take a holistic approach to physical and mental health. To learn more, simply contact the team today.