I have always believed that exercise is the key not only to physical health but to peace of mind. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk To Freedom.

Whether you enjoy physical exercise or not, you can’t deny the fact that it is good for you. For most of you, knowing that exercise is good for you in not brand new information, and more and more studies show that the mental health benefits of physical exercise are extremely beneficial for both your physical and mental health.

We know that physical exercise is important for our body – but how important is it for our brain?

Tal Ben-Shahar wrote in his book Even happier that ‘in essence, not exercising is like taking a depressant.’

Research findings from all over the world are showing that physical exercise significantly reduces stress and increases our brains performance.

Michael Babyak from Duke University Medical School, showed that exercising three times a week for thirty minutes was as helpful for patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder as taking a powerful antidepressant medication. Also, he found that those who were on the drug were four times more likely to relapse into depression once they stopped taking the medication than those who exercised.

My tip?

Find something that you enjoy doing. I’m not massive on running, so I run mostly when playing netball. Or, I keep my runs really short and just go for 10 minutes at a time.

We are creatures of habit, so designating a specific time for exercise each week really works for me. Not having to think about when I will exercise or what I will do, it’s helpful to have it all planned out already so I’m not looking for extra motivation to go or making time for it in a full on day. For example, I get up early for boxing 1-2 times a week. If I ever find it difficult to get up and go, I think to myself, tomorrow I can sleep in because that is my routine.

Thinking about how good I feel for the rest of the day after boxing though, is always another great motivator. Besides, the potential positive side effects of exercise include increased self-esteem, better sleep, improved mental functioning, better memory, smarter and a stronger immune system. What more motivation could we want? Unless we enjoy feeling depressed or don’t want to be happier… but surely not.

Exercise knowing our bodies want us to move, because we are designed for it

Our bodies want us to move, so when we don’t, we can pay a price. When we deprive ourselves of physical exercise, our bodies miss out on the release of neurotransmitters (noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine) that make us feel good and boost our happiness levels.

In a shitty mood? No problem. You can shake it off with a quick burst of exercise.

If students come to me feeling flat, my initial response is usually to ask them, ‘what are you doing for yourself to feel better?’ or ‘what are you doing to look after yourself?’ I would love for this question to always have an immediate response, but unfortunately it is not common enough for students to know exactly how to help themselves and take ownership for their feelings.

So if you’re feeling flat, or want to become happier in general, this post is damning evidence to get out there and do some sort of exercise, no matter what it is. If you chose not to exercise, then you are choosing not to help yourself thrive.

Exercising for any other reason than to celebrate and nurture our bodies, is unhelpful.

Exercise knowing you are helping yourself, and your body is thanking you for it. I find the human body so amazing and wonderful. It is intricate, clever and complex. So when you exercise, have that in mind. Celebrate your body for what it is and what it was designed to do – move. Exercising because you want to change the way your body looks is not helpful, nor does it make you feel good. It’s also a difficult way to stay motivated. But if we come from a place of love and respect for our bodies, that’s when our body will reward us with good health, happiness and a well functioning brain!

Research findings from all around the world are showing that physical exercise significantly reduces stress and increases our brain’s performance. Knowing this, how can you optimize this ‘wonder drug’ when you have a test or exams coming up?

Are you happy with the amount of exercise that you do? If not, what can you do about it?



  1. Hi Emily.
    I found this post really interesting, I didn’t know that exercising actually helps the brain like that and I didn’t know that it would help me like that. I think, provided with the evidence, that doing some sort of exercise would really help with my stress levels with my exams coming up. I also do netball for about 1.5 hours a week but I would like to do more in the future, obviously in a couple of years as I am in school now.


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