Get Physical for Mental Health

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There is a growing body of research that acknowledges the positive impact physical activity has on both the body and the mind.

  • Helps with mood and anxiety. Physical activity releases natural feel-good hormones (endorphins) in your brain, helping reduce anxiety levels and boosting overall mood. You will potentially worry less and experience fewer negative thoughts that ultimately can cause anxiety and depression. Even moderate exercise (such as going for a brisk walk) several times throughout the week can enhance concentration and enable you to carry out your daily tasks.
  • Decreases stress. If you hope to protect your body from the harmful effects of stress, it is vital to remove daily tensions. Exercise aids your immune function and prevents elevated blood pressure, fatigue, lack of motivation, and muscle tension. Exercise during exam periods have also been shown to reduce test-related stress.
  • Increases self-esteem and self-confidence. Meeting exercise goals can give you a sense of accomplishment that in turn boosts self-confidence. In addition, perceptions of health, physical competence, and fitness may become more positive due to a feeling that the body is improving through exercise.
  • Improves sleep. Research suggests that moderate to vigorous exercise can increase sleep quality for adults by both reducing the time it takes to fall asleep and alleviating daytime sleepiness.
  • Brain boost. A great deal of evidence shows that moderate exercise provides significant benefits on overall brain performance, specifically brain plasticity and neurogenesis (the production of new brain cells), which in turn helps to strengthen memory and learning and prevent cognitive decline and memory loss. Other studies have shown that physical exercise can enhance creativity, innovation, and mental energy. So, if you need some inspiration, consider going for a walk and seeing what comes to mind!


Here are some examples of moderate exercise that can be incorporated into a daily routine*:

  • going for a brisk walk
  • jogging
  • stretching
  • walking uphill (hello, McGill downtown campus!)
  • taking stairs whenever possible
  • bicycling
  • swimming / water aerobics
  • playing a sport (tennis, badminton, squash)
  • yoga
  • exercise videos on YouTube or other apps
  • dancing
  • housework (washing windows, vacuuming, mopping)
  • gardening


Check out McGill Recreation for a variety of activities and low-cost student gym passes.

*We recognize that individuals have a wide range of abilities. Before beginning any exercise routine, it is important to consult with a physician regarding whether there are any activities that you should avoid.

Finally, choosing an activity (or activities) that you enjoy, that fit into your regular routine, and that align with your fitness levels and abilities will ensure you are more likely to stick with it. Start small and build up your activity gradually.



Mandolesi, L. et al. (2018). Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Frontiers in Psychology. 9 : 509. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509

Mikkelson, K. et al. (2017). Exercise and Mental Health. Maturitus. 106: 48-56. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003

Walden University. 5 Mental Benefits of Exercise

Zamani Sani, S.H. (2016). Physical activity and self-esteem: testing direct and indirect relationships associated with psychological and physical mechanisms. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 12: 2617-2625. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S116811


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