How Physical Activity Affects Your Mental Health

Madison Walker
4 min readOct 5, 2020


By the age of 18, Lauren was a multi-sport athlete that was turning heads of college coaches all over. She was offered a scholarship in the United States to play in college, far from her home in the United Kingdom. However, before she got the chance to play in the United States, she suffered a major injury.

Lauren knew that with her injury, she was going to have to work very hard to get back to where she was. What she wasn’t expecting was for her mental health to drastically change. Lauren started to suffer from depression and anxiety on top of that. Her mental state continued to decline to the point where she turned to self-harm.

While going through depression, Lauren lost all confidence in herself. She was all alone and couldn’t bring herself to socialize with anyone. She stopped all communication with her friends and she was eventually left with no one else to talk to. She even tried to go multiple self-harm groups and therapy sessions.

Lauren tried to get herself to play a sport, but she just couldn’t. She hated the look of all of the scars on her arms and legs. All of the doubt came flooding into her mind on what others would think of her. After extensive research, she finally found something she could try.

A charity called Sport in Mind helps women and men from all ages improve mental issues by various physical activities. Lauren decided to give it a try. However, when it came time to go to a session, her anxiety got the best of her and she couldn’t get herself to go. This happened for a month. She finally took her friend along to go to a session.

Lauren explained that, “Over the next couple of months I attended as many sessions as I could, often with my friend, but sometimes on my own. I even started talking to people! To most people that might not seem like a massive deal, but to me it was a huge step in my recovery. I attended regular sessions for over a year, stopped self-harming, built up enough confidence to join a mainstream hockey team and even managed to find myself a full-time job.”

Sport in Mind is one of many charities around the world that offer services like this. Millions of children, teenagers, and adults struggle with mental health issues every year. Their goal is to help as many people as they can by promoting sports and physical activities.

Physical activity has shown to be a positive influence that reduces stress and anxiety. Sports allow people to build relationships and be productive while staying healthy. Exercise has been proven to improve serotonin, which regulates mental health, and decrease stress hormone levels. Exercise also releases chemicals like dopamine and endorphins, which make you feel happy. Physical activity acts as protection or a shield from mental health.

This picture shows children playing youth sports at the YMCA of Greater Cleveland.

An interesting study preformed by the Journal of Adolescent Health interviewed students that played sports and who didn’t play sports. The children in 8th grade through 12th grade who played sports were shown to have less stress and better mental health than those who did not play sports. A follow-up study done 3 years after graduation asked the students to rate their mental health on a scale of 1–5 (one being bad and five being good). They found that the people who played youth sports had better scores than the others.

Another study preformed showed that exercise can be used as an antidepressant. When you exercise, you release dopamine, which stimulates your brain’s reward center. Rather than drugs or medication, which can sometimes lead to addiction, exercise is a healthy way to fight depression. A follow-up study that was done found that the effects of exercise lasted longer to help depression than the effects of medication.

This image shows how your brain changes after a 20 minute walk.

When you play a team sport you gain knowledge on teamwork skills and you gain satisfaction in yourself. Exercising regularly helps you stay fit and can keep you healthy over time. Exercise is one of many ways that can help treat mental illnesses, however it can leave you with much more.


Easterlin, Molly C. “Team Sports Participation and Long-Term Mental Health in Individuals With Adverse Childhood Experiences.” JAMA Pediatrics, JAMA Network, 1 July 2019, Accessed 29 September 2020.

“Lauren’s Story.” Sport in Mind, 28 July 2020, Accessed 1 October 2020.

Monroe, Jamison. “Sports and Mental Health.” Newport Academy, Newport Academy, 13 Apr. 2018, Accessed 25 September 2020.

Move Body, Activate Brain. Accessed 5 October 2020.

Penttila, Nicky. “How Does Exercise Affect the Brain?” Dana Foundation, Dana Foundation, 24 Mar. 2020, Accessed 29 September 2020.

“The Role of Physical Activity and Sport in Mental Health.” The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine, 21 May 2018, Accessed 25 September 2020.

“Youth Sports.” YMCA of Greater Cleveland, Accessed 5 September 2020.