Melanie Sykes - Exercise and Mental Health

Is Exercise the Best Antidepressant?

If you want to shift a few pounds, everyone knows that exercising and eating well are the answer. Say goodbye to Mr Ben and Mr Jerry, sign up to the local gym (again), and definitely ditch the takeaway this weekend. But many people are unaware that exercise can be the best, and most cost-effective, anti-depressant going.

A surprising one in four people will experience a mental health issue every year. Whether this is depression, anxiety or stress-related, mental health conditions range from mild to life-threatening, and can affect anyone at any time of their life.

While antidepressants are often prescribed for people suffering with these conditions, the benefits of physical exercise are often overlooked.

Left Buzzing

Exercise causes the brain to release certain chemicals that make you feel good and keep you energised. If you’ve ever experienced that post-exercise “buzz” you’ll know what I mean. This is mainly due to the release of endorphins, but just an increase in blood flow around your body will leave you feeling more alert.

Exercise has also been shown to help regulate sleep patterns, improve concentration and stimulate the growth of new brain cells. People who exercise regularly also say they have higher self-esteem and feel better about their appearance.

Not In The Mood?

One of the challenges for those suffering from a mental health condition is getting the motivation to do something… or anything. If your self-esteem is low, you feel exhausted and worthless and your stress levels are through the roof, the last thing you are likely to do is start exercising.

Our first piece of advice would be to start off slow. If you go into it all guns blazing, booking every class you can, you’ll likely set yourself up for failure. Start by increasing the amount of exercise you do every day. Walk to the shops instead of driving, park your car slightly further from work than necessary or take the stairs instead of the lift. Try out a few classes you think you’ll enjoy and get a friend to join you if you need extra motivation.

Once you have increased your daily exercise, try to get into a routine that you can realistically stick to. Is there a time of day you prefer to exercise (not everyone likes getting to the gym at 6am!), or is there an instructor that really inspires you? If you are enjoying exercise you are more likely to stick to it than if it seems like a chore.

Sense of Achievement

It’s always important to set yourself goals to keep you on track. These goals should be achievable, but don’t doubt yourself – you’ll be surprised what you can achieve when you put your mind to it. Make sure you reward yourself when goals are met, and don’t beat yourself up if it takes longer to achieve than you first thought.

In our opinion, exercise is the one of the best ways to relieve stress, reduce anxiety and keep depression at bay, but never struggle alone – help is always right there for you.

Check out’s pages on depression and post-natal depression to learn more about the mental health resources out there or visit Heads Together to find out about the #oktosay campaign with William, Kate and Harry.