Tapping into the Mind-Body Connection: Exercise and Mental Health

In our modern society, people often view the mind as the controller of the body and understand the connection between them in a dualistic way. But research has shown that the mind and body are actually intimately connected. Our nervous system runs throughout the entire body and recent research has shown that there is also a gut-brain axis suggesting that even the health of your digestive system can influence your brain. Given the extensive connections between the mind and the body, it is easy to see why keeping a healthy body can also help you maintain a healthy mind. 

By tapping into this mind-body connection and using it to your advantage, you can improve your health from multiple angles and transform your life. Self-care is essential to maintaining a healthy mind and the best way to take care of yourself is through regular exercise. Exercise not only affects you physically, but it also assists in stress relief, building self-esteem, and so much more! 

6 Ways that Exercise is Good for Your Mental Health

1. Improves Self-Confidence

Through regular exercise, you can improve your strength and endurance, giving you confidence in your physical abilities. When you feel weak, fatigued, or are unhappy with your body, it can greatly affect your self-esteem. However, through regular exercise you can increase your strength and tone your body, giving you greater confidence and pride in your abilities. When you achieve a physical accomplishment, it can shift the way that you view yourself as someone who is weak or broken to someone who is powerful and capable instead. 

2. Enhances Proprioception 

Proprioception is the ability to be aware of your body in space and it is often referred to as the “sixth sense”. Proprioception essentially allows you to move your body with your eyes closed or without conscious awareness. But although this is often thought of as an automatic process, by developing this skill through exercise you can enhance the functioning of your sensory nerves, improve your precision, reduce your risk of injury, and develop greater strength and mobility. Building greater proprioception is also linked with the ability to move more gracefully and can develop your ability to control your body. Yoga in particular is very beneficial at improving proprioception because it emphasizes awareness of the body throughout the practice. 

3. Releases Endorphins 

Endorphins are a hormone in your body that acts similarly to many pain-relieving drugs. This hormone is released whenever you exercise and is often credited for the blissful feeling people get after an intense session of exercise. Due to the biological effects of this hormone in the body that targets the opiate receptors in the brain, it not only reduces pain after a workout but it also increases pleasure and spreads a general feeling of wellbeing throughout your body and mind. This release of endorphins is particularly beneficial for promoting stress relief and reducing depression or anxiety. 

4. Creates Community

People often exercise at a gym or a studio environment where they are surrounded by other people. In this space, it is easier to exercise because you are encouraged by others through a psychological phenomenon known as social facilitation. Essentially, this psychological theory suggests that when people exercise together, they tend to push themselves more and this can also build trust and camaraderie with others. So, rather than working out on your own, you can boost your workout even further and deepen your emotional connections with an exercise buddy. This is not only a great way to make friends, but by attending your local gym or studio, it creates a sense of community and provides an opportunity for connection with others. 

5. Relieves Stress

The most well-known mental benefit of exercise is that it promotes stress relief. When life gets overwhelming, many people go on a run or practice yoga to blow off some steam and release any negative thoughts or feelings from their minds. When you exercise, it shifts your focus away from your worries or stressors and allows you to be more in the present moment. Chronic stress pushes your body into a constant state of fight-or-flight, but through exercise you can release this pent-up energy and shift your body into rest-or-digest mode instead. By calming your nervous system through exercise, this can also improve your resiliency and decrease your emotional reactivity. 

6. Improves Memory, Concentration, and Focus

Research has shown that when people remain more physically active as they age, it reduces their risk for age-related memory loss. But besides the benefits of exercise for aging, it also generally improves your concentration and focus, helping you to perform better at work and in other contexts of your life. The benefits of exercise for memory, concentration, and focus is primarily linked with how it reduces stress-related effects on the body and mind. Chronic stress leads to reduced memory, concentration, and focus, so by mediating these effects, exercise can help prevent any negative impacts on the mind and body while also improving your mental health as well. 


Besides the many well-known benefits of exercise to your physical health, emerging research has shown that exercise is very beneficial for your mind as well. Although it is best to get as much exercise as you can, we all have busy lives and we cannot always devote time to physical exercise. But, investing in your physical and mental health will pay off in the long run by leading to a happier, healthier, and more joy-filled life. There is a famous Zen proverb that says:

If you don’t have time to meditate for an hour every day, you should meditate for two hours.

Similarly, the people with the busiest schedules are the ones who need to incorporate exercise into their day the most. Rather than waiting for life to overwhelm you until you reach your breaking point, it is best to instill these healthy daily habits as a preventative measure to keep you at peak functioning throughout your life. 

So, start incorporating exercise into your daily routine and gain the many physical and mental benefits of this practice. Make sure to share this article with your friends and family as well to inspire them to become your workout buddy so that you can both gain the many mental and physical benefits of exercise today!  

Written by Isabella Koepf

Isabella has a B.Sc. in Psychology, Biology, and Religious Studies from Western Washington University and is a certified 500hr yoga teacher.

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