How Does Exercise Improve Employee Mental Health?

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Physical activity is not only good for your body, ensuring a healthy heart, strong muscles and durable bones, it’s also very beneficial for your mental health and wellbeing. Looking after your health should be a top priority and not something ‘you should do’.


Being active does not have to mean participating in a sport or attending a gym, there are lots of ways to remain active, and it’s important to find one that works for you. The Trainers have put together a guide to show how physical activity can positively impact your own mental wellbeing. We have also included some tips and suggestions to help improve your mental wellbeing in the workplace.

Take care of your body.It’s the only place you have to live
— Jim Rohn

What is physical activity?

Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that require energy expenditure. It is recommended that an average adult should participate in 75 and 150 minutes of exercise per week. Any activity that raises your heart rate and increases your breathing counts as exercise.

What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing is defined as the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. The World Health Organisation says that ‘Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’

What impact does physical activity have on wellbeing?

Physical activity enhances our wellbeing. Even short bursts of exercise can increase alertness, energy and improve our mood. Participating in regular physical activity can increase self-esteem, improve quality of life and can also reduce stress and anxiety.


Increases mood

Physical activity has been proven to have a positive effect on mood. Those who are more active generally feel more content, are more awake and are also calmer than those who are inactive for a long period of time. When exercising, the body releases chemicals called endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling similar to that of morphine. It is also known as the ‘happiness hormone’ or the ‘runners high’. According to mentalhealth.org ‘better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year’. Did you know that exercise is thought to be just as effective as antidepressants?

Decreases stress levels

Symptoms of stress can include sleeping problems, sweating, and loss of appetite. These symptoms are caused by a rush of hormones, mainly adrenaline, and noradrenaline which can cause the heart rate to increase. Physical activity can be a very effective way of relieving stress. Research has shown that employees who are highly active tend to have lower stress rates compared to those who are inactive.

Decreases depression & anxiety

Physical activity can reduce levels of anxiety and depression, it is an empowering approach that supports self-management. According to Shoosmiths ‘one in six workers suffer from anxiety, depression and unmanageable stress each year’ and evidence from mentalhealth.org suggests that ‘12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions’.

Where to start?

Becoming more active is great! But, where do you start?

  1. Overcome barriers - Fear, lack of energy and injury can all hinder people from getting started. However, support from colleagues and exercising with companions can help to reduce anxiety, it will increase accountability and motivation.

  2. Make time - Scheduling exercise as appointments which cannot be missed in work diaries is a great way of overcoming ‘I do not have time!’ Make time in your busy schedule.

  3. Convenience - Choose an activity which is convenient and something that will be right for you. For example, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to burn fat, gets the heart pumping and endorphins flowing, and all can be achieved in 30 minutes in your lunch hour.

  4. At work - Move more by taking the stairs or every 30 minutes stretch your legs. Walk or cycle a slightly longer route home. Or have a personal trainer come to your office for a bespoke fitness class.

We hope this article will get you thinking about how you can become more physically active if you are an employee or if you are an employer you may be inspired to find different wellbeing approaches that can enhance your company.

This is a guest blog from Holly at The Trainers and may not represent the views of Emprana.