The benefits of exercise for your physical and mental health

By Vanessa Racine, social media coordinator
The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health crisis or be diagnosed with a mental illness. By age 40, that ratio increases to every 1 in 2 Canadians. While the benefits of physical activity on physical health are well known, being active can also be an effective pathway to good mental health. Here are some ways that exercise can benefit your overall health.

A quick recap on some physical benefits

Regular exercise is incredibly effective in preventing numerous chronic, cardiovascular, and degenerative diseases.

An effective way to combat cardiovascular disease

Regular physical activity improves and regulates the cardiovascular system, dramatically decreasing all cardiovascular risk factors. According to the Montreal Heart Institute, exercise can reduce “bad” cholesterol levels and high blood pressure by up to 50%, as well as regulate blood sugar levels, thus reducing the risk of diabetes. Over time, it helps make the heart more resistant and less tired during exercise. In addition, regular physical activity strengthens the heart muscle and improves your circulation, which prevents blood clots from forming. There are numerous benefits that will keep your heart strong and healthy over the long term. 

Strengthening your bone structure

As a general rule, people lose 7 to 12% of their bone mass between the ages of 35 and 50. Getting regular physical activity helps improve your bone density. Strengthening your bones and muscles is an excellent way to prevent chronic conditions such as back pain, inflammatory rheumatism, osteoporosis, or osteoarthritis. Weight-bearing activities (walking, jogging, playing tennis, rollerblading, etc.) and resistance activities (weightlifting, for example) are the best for building up your bones.

Mental Health Benefits

A woman in sunglasses running by blooming trees. 
Physical activity is good for more than just improving your fitness. According to the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, exercise can have numerous mental health benefits.
Exercising creates a general sense of wellbeing

You know that feeling after an intense workout, where you’re exhausted… but also completely relaxed and at peace? That sensation comes from the fact that physical activity increases the level of serotonin in the blood, a neurotransmitter in the brain that makes you feel relaxed and in a good mood. It also stimulates the release of endorphins, euphoric hormones that are in the same family as morphine.

Working out is a great stress reliever

As a result of endorphins at work and this general sense of wellbeing, stress and anxiety levels decrease significantly with physical activity. Exercise also helps you sleep better by causing you to feel physically fatigued and mentally relaxed for a more restorative rest. Cardiovascular exercise is most effective in increasing the quality of slow-wave sleep, which is the most important phase for physical recovery.

In this time of instability and adjustment, we should make the most of all the ways that physical activity can benefit our mental health. Whether it’s a long walk, a bike ride, or working out at home, making physical activity a priority is a simple and accessible way to take care of your health and wellbeing. Given all of the above, it’s clear that physical activity can be truly therapeutic at any age or skill level.

So, what are you waiting for? Lace up those runners!
In today’s society, many things can be a source of stress. Here are more tips to limit the impacts of stress on your physical and mental health.
To learn more about mental health, check out our online psychological first aid courses
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