Psychological Benefits of ExerciseWith New Years Eve right around the corner, I’m sure you’ve heard the talk all over the office… “So what are your New Year’s resolutions?” Which ones tend to be at the top of the list? Getting healthy… working out… eating better… lose weight… we all have good intentions to see these resolutions through, but we tend to taper off after a couple weeks, right? Well, as a bit of motivation to keep going, let’s focus on the psychological benefits of exercise.


It sounds counter intuitive, but regular exercise can actually increase your energy level. It can also be exceptionally difficult to start working out when we are feeling depressed and fatigued. A research article from last fall examined participants doing low-intensity exercise completed only 20 minutes of exercise on a stationary bicycle at 40% intensity 3 times a week. In addition, they also had participants complete a moderate-intensity exercise routine for 20 minutes, 3 times a week at 75% intensity – also on the stationary bicycle. Their study found, “Feelings of vigor were higher after both low- and moderate-intensity exercise during Weeks 1, 3, and 6 compared to a control condition. Feelings of fatigue were lower after low-intensity exercise during Weeks 3 and 6,” (Dishman, Thom, Puetz, O’Connor & Clementz, 2010).

So even if you want to start with something of low intensity – maybe walking or a light jog… as long as you in some way are getting at LEAST 20 minutes of activity only 3 days a week, it is enough to see an increase in your energy level. I know the common excuse is often, “I don’t have time to workout or exercise.” If you try to state you don’t have 20 minutes in your day for something that will allow you to have more energy, you aren’t making the time of day. Are you a busy college student? Walking around campus carrying all of those books and/or laptop is exercise. Chance are, you are probably already walking at least 20 minutes a day. Do you work a high stress office job? Take the stairs for at least part of the trip up to your floor. It is possible to find little ways to get in a bit of exercise, it doesn’t have to be a full sweating workout to see these results. And you may not have more energy after that first day, but know that soon, more energy will come.


As most of us know, exercise can also improve our mood. Trying to fight off winter blues? Getting exercise is not only a good way to burn off some steam, but working out releases endorphins in our brain that can help lead to improvement in our mood. In addition, the time you spend at the gym, walking, or running, is giving you time to escape the situations at work or home that can stress you out. Do you find that you tend to stay at home and just sit and watch television when after work? I know I sure used to. When we just sit, even when we are watching television, our mind wonders and allows us to begin ruminating about things that are bothering us. Exercising, and doing something different helps to stop our brain from ruminating. In addition, when we start a new activity, we may begin to feel a sense of accomplishment and mastery that helps to improve our self-esteem.


When we exercise, we sleep better – there’s no way around that. By expending physical energy during the day, you are leaving less energy at the end of the day that your body wants to use. When we sleep better, we also feel better. So the sleep and mood benefits of exercise sort of go together.

Social Interaction

Do you find you are isolating yourself, or not getting out as much as you’d like? Call up a friend and go on a walk together. It not only makes it fun, but talking and spending time with others we care about is another good way to stop rumination. Don’t have someone to call? Try taking a class at your gym, or sign up for a class at local studio. Getting into classes is a great way to meet new people. When you’re feeling as if you don’t have energy to keep going in the class, the acquaintances you’ve made can help support you and urge you to keep going. Even if you don’t hang out with them outside of the class, you are still having human interaction with others – and like I’ve said before… we are social creatures and need the social interaction.

In Sum…

There are various benefits to exercise, and yes I will agree, starting an exercise routine is difficult, but there are ways to find motivation. First, make sure you get the go ahead from your doctor to start exercise – especially if you have any sort of illness or injury. Try meeting with a trainer to at least get an exercise routine set up – sometimes not knowing what exercises to do, how many, or at what weight can make exercise intimidating. Most trainers will meet with you to set up a work out routine even if you don’t work out with them each time.

If you’d like more articles, check out the links below for help with motivation, and just more information on the benefits of exercise.

Suggested Reading

Mayo Clinic: How does exercise help depression and anxiety

Mayo Clinic: Barriers to Fitness: Overcoming Common Challenges

Mayo Clinic: Exercise: 7 Benefits of Regular Activity

PsyBlog: How to avoid being distracted from your goals

PsyBlog: Reaching Life Goals: Which Strategies work

Works Cited

Dishman, R. K., Thom, N. J., Puetz, T. W., O’Connor, P. J., & Clementz, B. A. (2010). Effects of cycling exercise on vigor, fatigue, and electroencephalographic activity among young adults who report persistent fatigue. Psychophysiology,47(6), 1066–1074.

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

Psychological Benefits of Exercise – Will this year be the year you stay in the gym?
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