Exercise & Mental Health


If you haven’t heard, the Brain-Based team are doing Mind’s 27 27 challenge this month, where we attempt to run/walk 27 miles in 27 days, to raise awareness about student mental health.

Research has found that the first lockdown saw more people reporting mental health disorders in the UK, however, mental health began to recover once the lockdown eased. Unfortunately, as the UK extends its lockdown period, many are again beginning to feel the anxiety and stress once felt back in March of 2020 1. Additionally, research has shown that 27% of students report mental health problems at university, and as most of us are current university or recent graduates, we thought it only appropriate to raise awareness and help other students by getting up and active. With spring looming, and lockdown making us sick of being in our rooms, why not go on walks and runs to get some fresh air.

How does exercise help our mental health?

Exercise has been shown to improve health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and also by improving self-esteem and cognitive function 2. It has also been shown to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Additionally, regular exercise has been shown to have several health benefits, such as:

  • Improved sleep
  • Increased interest in sex
  • Better endurance
  • Stress relief
  • Improvement in mood
  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
  • Weight reduction
  • Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness
The effects of exercise on mental health. glowscotland. (2019)

But how does exercise help our mental health exactly?

When you start getting active – whether that be running, walking, gardening, or dancing – your body undergoes a plethora of changes. From metabolic changes to physical changes, exercise even changes our neurological chemistry. When we exercise, we release endorphins – a class of neurotransmitters that are produced in the pituitary gland and help to alleviate pain. They also produce feelings of euphoria and pleasure, resulting in “runner’s high”. These neurotransmitters work both on the peripheral and sympathetic nervous system to cause their main effects:

  • Peripheral Nervous System – They work by binding to opioid receptors which activate a cascade of events leading to the inhibition of a molecule known as tachykinins which are responsible for our sensation of pain 3.
  • Sympathetic Nervous System: Here they don’t act on pain molecules, instead they inhibit the release of GABA (an inhibitory neurotransmitter), causing an excess production of dopamine (the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter) 3.
Endorphins. IB Bioninja. (2020)

If you would like to contribute or take part in the 27 27 challenge:


  1. https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/lockdown-impact-mental-health/
  2. Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 8(2), 106. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
  3. Sprouse-Blum, A. S., Smith, G., Sugai, D., & Parsa, F. D. (2010). Understanding endorphins and their importance in pain management. Hawaii medical journal, 69(3), 70–71.

Featured photo: by Cliff Booth from Pexels. 

Edited by Cyrus Rohani-Shukla

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