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The Incredible Mental Benefits of Exercise

As the mileage increases each week during my 25k training plan, the rest day at the end of the week becomes more and more exciting. When training began, I had to rearrange a lot of runs due to a big snow storm and found myself completing much less intense cross training workouts. My legs didn’t work very hard during the week, so when my rest day came around I felt pretty antsy just relaxing all day long.

As I sat around, feeling guilty instead of enjoying the time I had to myself, I got to thinking about how much more satisfying these rest days are after a hard workout. Whenever I sit around after a rather sedentary week, I find myself feeling guilty and actually quite stressed. No matter how much I look forward to a free schedule and some time to relax, a day spent off my feet often leaves me feeling even lazier and more lethargic than active days.

The media has a really terrible way of skewing our perspective of exercise to make us feel like it is something we have to do in order to be thin, pretty, popular, etc. I so often see exercise portrayed as a form of punishment.

“I ate 3 cookies today, so now I have to run 3 miles to burn that off.”

“I went out with my friends last night so today I have to go to the gym before I can eat lunch.”

The Incredible Mental Benefits of Exercise: 9 Qualities you Gain through Exercise

It is so sad to me that many people think of exercise as a punishment, and only complete it to compensate for doing something “wrong”. While I definitely have my days with low motivation (many of them;), I am always so grateful for the positive image that exercising holds in my mind.

My perspective on myself and life in general has changed greatly along with my exercise routine. When I first started working out regularly, it was mostly to get in shape and ‘look good’. I never desired to work out in order to make my body healthier, stronger, or mentally tougher.

These past few years my view on exercising has become much more well rounded. While running is the core of my love for exercise, I have explored cross training workouts, found different body weight exercises, different forms of cardio, lifted weights, ventured outside, and found many fun activities that count (in my mind at least) as a workout.

The Incredible Mental Benefits of Exercise: 9 Qualities you Gain through Exercise

No matter what activity I engage in, the benefits remain the same.

My mental strength and overall well being have increased exponentially along with my exercise routine. Experiencing the benefits of exercise helps motivate me to continue, and leaves me looking forward to the next time I get to work out.

Looking back on where I started, I see just how much I was missing in my life before I started exercising. The benefits of exercise have impacted me not just physically, but mentally as well. Beginning a regular workout routine has improved my mental health in so many ways.

9 Incredible Benefits of Exercise


Seeing improvement each week is so helpful in creating a positive body image. There is nothing more satisfying than adding reps, holding a move for longer, being less sore after the same workout, running more miles than you ever have, or crossing a finish line. With each of these milestones, our sense of self worth increases, allowing us to feel proud of the progress we have made. No matter where you started or where you are right now, there are so many reasons you should be proud.

Mental Strength

Each and every exercise you do will benefit your body in some way. Whether you are pushing yourself to the limits, or repping it out with an easier move – it takes effort to complete these exercises and strength to continue. Pushing your limits is incredibly challenging, and exercise provides you infinite opportunities to improve. With each exercise you complete, your mental strength increases as you find the motivation, endurance, physical strength and focus to complete it.

Self confidence

Everyone should feel proud of who they are and what they have accomplished – no matter how big or small. Working out and exercising in a healthy way promotes a positive body image, allowing you to see progress with each step. Proving to yourself what you are capable of increases feelings of self worth, leaving you with more self confidence than when you began.

Overcoming Limits

5 years ago, the thought of running 26.2 miles was something that I never dreamed I could accomplish. With each training cycle, the miles build up and you run farther than before. In cross training, you ride a little faster, finish the moves with ease, or use heavier weights. Everything seems impossible until it’s done. Exercise is a great tool to help you break down your barriers and push past your self imposed limits.

Kalamazoo Half Marathon (8)

Stress Reduction

Before I began exercising regularly, I was never aware of the fact that I was stressed and anxious. I never noticed how uptight I was, because feeling that way was my ‘normal’. Now that I regularly work out, I can absolutely tell a difference in my anxiety and stress levels on the days that I do not exercise. Physical activity is, in my opinion, the absolute best way to reduce stress. If you think you do not have time to exercise, then that is when you need it the most.


One of my personal favorite benefits of exercise is patience. If there was ever something that I needed to improve for myself and my relationships, it would definitely be patience. With that being said, exercising has helped me make significant improvements with my patience. Patience is an important skill in every sport and workout. There is no way you can go to the gym and run 20 miles or swim 2 miles your first day, but with a little practice and patience, you can achieve your goal in the future.

Once you start working out, whether at the gym, in nature, at the track, or in the comfort of your home, you automatically have a community of like minded people in the world. Community might mean just noticing some friends’ posts on social media and seeing that they have started running too, or it might mean starting a race standing with 40,000 other people who have the same goal. Exercise provides a common goal amongst a community of strangers, all supporting one another on their individual accomplishments.

Detroit Marathon (37)


Whether you’re training for a marathon or biking around the block, consistent exercise is a foolproof way to increase your endurance. While your body continues to get stronger, your mind does as well. With each mile that you add to your run, the biggest obstacle standing between you and the finish is in your mind. Your mind tells you that you can’t finish something much sooner than is needed. Oftentimes when we are feeling tired it is actually just our brain’s attempt to protect the body. Pushing through these mental barriers gives us incredible mental endurance.


Similar to stress reduction, exercising helps me to be more present throughout the rest of the day, as well as during my workout. The past two years I have been running music free and I love it. Running out in nature has a calming, meditative quality to it. With nothing but your thoughts and the sounds of your surroundings, I am forced to focus on my environment and my body. These moments of mindfulness slow my heart rate, ease my anxiety, and set me up for greater success throughout the rest of my day.

The list could go on and on – there are just so many benefits of exercise. If you have fallen off the bandwagon or just never really cared to start, I guarantee you will surprise yourself when you do. You are truly missing out if you have not made exercising a part of your daily life. It will change you for the better, I promise.

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