Healthy Body, Healthy Mind. But why?

Friday 18 May 2018

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind.

But why?



We all know that physical activity is good for our bodies, but what about our brains?

You’d be right if you immediately said ‘dah’! It’s clear that when we manage to drag ourselves to a training session, even when it’s the last thing we feel like doing, we often finish the session feeling better than before. So, why exactly does it affect our mental health in a positive way?


Participation in exercise can reduce stress levels due to the distraction from worries or negative feelings that we may be experiencing. Beyond this, there’s also the release of chemicals called endorphins.

Endorphins interact with the receptors in our brains, and reduce our perception of pain. They actually trigger a positive feeling in our body, similar to morphine. The best part is these chemicals are natural, and don’t lead to addiction or dependence.

Now you might say that endorphins are also released when you’re eating chocolate. To that we’d ask - are you distracted from your negative thoughts while eating the chocolate? #checkmate

Skill Development

Sport and exercise allows us to gain mastery of new skills, such as improving a tennis swing, running further distances or increasing our weight load in the gym. Exercising, or training, allows us opportunities to increase speed, technique, strength and stamina, or simply, to learn new skills. Let’s be honest – developing skills allows us to achieve goals, but ultimately also makes us feel good. Research has shown over and over again that this kind of skill acquisition boosts self-esteem and, above all, allows us to recognise our efforts and celebrate our achievements!


If playing a team sport is more your jam, than you’re in luck! Team sports allow us to be part of a group, which is a psychological need that stems from way back in history when we needed to be part of a group to survive. We know that increased positive social interaction leads to better mental health outcomes and a team environment is perfect for creating these experiences.

Team participation also allows us to support and work together while going through the highs and lows of competition. Here, opportunities to improve problem-solving, decision making capabilities and leadership skills are also heightened. Hmmm… a skill development opportunity and a self-esteem boost that you wouldn’t expect from sport – are you starting to see a pattern here?


It’s no surprise, but it’s important to remember that when we increase our activity levels, we tend to sleep better. We know that research suggests that increased exercise often leads to longer, deeper sleep – particularly for females and people of lower fitness levels. I’m sure you can’t deny that when you’re well rested you generally feel better. Regularity is the key here. So start clocking up the k’s by going for a walk or playing a social sport and the distraction, skill development, social interaction, and sleep will all follow suit!

So now that you know why physical activity is so closely linked to your mental health you can use it to trigger things like skill development and problem solving as well as cement some healthy habits like getting enough sleep!


Garber, M., Brand, S., Herrmann, C., Colledge, F., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., & Puhse, U. (2014). Increased objectively assessed vigorous-intensity exercise is associated with reduced stress, increased mental health and good objective and subjective sleep in young adults. Physiology and Behaviour. 135, 17-24
Hanrahan, S. J., & Anderson, M. B. (2013). Routledge Handbook of Applied Sport Psychology. Oxen: Routledge
Lavelle, D., Kremer, J., Moran, A. P., & Williams, M. (2004). Sport Psychology: Contemporary Themes, New York: Palgrave Macmillan
Soo Kim, Y., Soo Park, Y., Allegrante, J. P., Marks, R., OK, H., Ok Cho, K., & Ewing Garber, C. (2012).  Relationship between physical activity and general mental health, Preventative Medicine, 55(5), 458-463
Theodoratou, M., Dritsas, I., Saltou, M., Dimas, V., Spyropoulous, A. Nikolopoulou, E., (…) Valsami, O. (2016) Physical exercise and students mental health. European Psychiatry. 33, s219

Jacqui Sandland

Jacqui is a UQ Sport guest writer currently completing her Master of Psychology in Sport and exercise at UQ. She is know for having an unhealthy obsession with snowboarding which results in wasting a lot of time pondering why she has chosen to live in QLD. Her greatest loves are coffee, chocolate, laughing, and hearing a good yarn. Be sure to check her out on instagram at @jacqsandland