World Mental Health Day: The Benefits of Exercise on our Mental Health

A day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy, October 10th of each year marks World Mental Health Day. Mental Health Australia is leading the World Mental Health Day campaign in Australia with their ’Do you see what I see?’ initiative – encouraging everyone to look at mental health in a more positive light.

As a partner for this year’s campaign, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) continues to raise awareness of reducing the stigma surrounding mental health conditions by encouraging all Australians to engage in some form of physical activity to both protect and significantly benefit their mental health.

“Our understanding of the relationship between exercise and mental health has evolved considerably in recent years. Once viewed as ‘just’ a distraction from negative thoughts, exercise is now recognised as an evidence-based, fundamental component of treatment for a range of mental illnesses,” says Dr Simon Rosenbaum, mental health researcher with the School of Psychiatry, UNSW Sydney, and Black Dog Institute.

The relative risk of death is estimated to be 2.2 times higher in people with mental disorders compared to the general population and this is largely due to chronic physical health problems that are often associated with mental illness.

Physical inactivity is the cause of approximately 9% of premature death worldwide, with people experiencing a mental illness being particularly vulnerable to inactivity. Even one workout a week is known to have important, protective benefits for those living with mental health conditions like depression.

With a recent report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing a staggering 9.1% increase in Australians dying from suicide, and a report by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners highlighting that mental health was the number one reason people were visiting their GP, there is an urgent need for more affordable, more accessible treatment options.

“Although not a magic bullet, physical inactivity is a key, modifiable risk factor that we overwhelmingly know how to address, and Accredited Exercise Physiologists play a vital role in achieving the motivation to move more to improve poor mental health and manage mental illness,” explains ESSA Chief Executive Officer, Anita Hobson-Powell.

It’s important to remember that it’s not about what type of exercise is the best kind, it’s about what works for the individual, and that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. Guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise at least five times a week, but it’s best to start small and build on that gradually.

“Exercise should be seen as a ‘tool in the tool belt’ for people living with mental illness and as a strategy for helping to manage symptoms, improve physical health, improve sleep quality, and improve overall quality of life,” adds Dr Rosenbaum.

Exercise, when provided suitably and tailored in a way that is specific to the needs of the individual, is an excellent addition to other treatment for the ongoing journey towards good mental health. Those living with poor mental health in Australia can speak to their GP and get a referral to an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to help improve both their mental and physical health.

“At ESSA, we are committed to promoting the role of exercise interventions as a key component of a global strategy toward achieving a 50% reduction in the life expectancy gap of people experiencing mental illness by 2032, and this is captured in our recently published Exercise & Mental Health eBook,” says Ms Hobson-Powell.

“This eBook discusses the key themes of recent research including the message that when it comes to the mental health benefits of exercise, anything is better than nothing and seeking help from an appropriately qualified health professional, such as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, can significantly increase chances of success over the long term.”


To contact your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist, visit the ESSA website.

To find out more about exercising right for our mental health, visit the Exercise Right website.