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The impact of sport on mental health

According to a study carried out in 1993 , 30% of the Western population practices regular physical activity and 50% of them give up after 6 months. However, sport has shown many health benefits, including mental health.
L'impact du sport sur la santé mentale

Although consciences are awakening as to the impact of physical activity on morale, few people exercise regularly. According to a study carried out in 1993 , 30% of the Western population practices regular physical activity and 50% of them give up after 6 months. Yet sport has shown many health benefits, including mental health.

  • Sport releases good molecules
  • The effects of sport on mental health
  • The importance of sport in medical pathways

Sport releases good molecules

The practice of physical effort causes hormones to be secreted which cause a feeling of well-being: we call them happiness hormones. It is the feeling of reward that sometimes comes with a desire to love or to create. Among these, we find in particular:

Endorphin : The so-called “anti-stress” hormone whose molecular structure is similar to morphine. It is released by the brain after 30 minutes of exercise and is mainly responsible for the feeling of euphoria after a workout. It reduces the feeling of physical pain and triggers fatigue. It would also have a beneficial effect on intestinal transit.

Serotonin : This hormone increases nerve connections in the brain, which promotes learning. It regulates mood and reduces anxiety.

Dopamine : A hormone involved in the reward circuitry, which anchors our habits by reinforcing our behaviors.

Adrenaline and noradrenaline : one acts as a hormone, the other as a neurotransmitter. Together, they make up the “stress hormone“. They are found in emergency situations that appeal to the survival instinct. At the time of effort, the stress hormone allows maximum concentration towards the objective to be achieved.

The effects of sport on mental health

Sport is a physical activity that can have positive effects on mental health. Studies have shown that regular exercise can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression, as well as improve mood, self-esteem and sleep.

Reduced stress and anxiety

Among the most common mental health problems in the West are stress and anxiety. These two factors affect the quality of life of affected people whose cortisol levels are often very high. By exercising, you can regulate these levels and release endorphins, chemicals that improve mood and act as natural painkillers. By exercising regularly, levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine increase and regulate emotions.

Improved mood

Regular physical activity increases levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating mood and emotions. Therefore, playing sports helps to improve mood.

Increased self-esteem

The feeling of accomplishment at the end of a sports session can help with self-esteem. In addition to improving physical fitness, studies have shown that regular exercise improves self-perception and body image in some people. It comes with a feeling of lightness and better shape.

Certain group sports reinforce the idea of ​​belonging to a collective. Sport brings people together and builds bonds of trust between teammates. By extension, this has repercussions in daily life: actions are carried out with more self-confidence.

Sport and cognitive performance

Playing sports improves blood supply to the brain and the creation of nerve connections. This also preserves the health of neurons. Sports have also been shown to facilitate decision-making and problem-solving.

Reduction of symptoms of depression

Physical activity has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression in people with major or mild depressive disorders. By increasing the levels of neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin), mood and emotions are regulated and patients show fewer signs of stress and anxiety.

According to a 2018 study , resistance exercises significantly reduce symptoms of depression in adults. Another, carried out in 2016 , maintains that sport improves the overall and psychological quality of life of populations vulnerable to mental illness.

Improved sleep

We notice a clear improvement in sleep among athletes. In fact, sport reduces stress levels, increases relaxation and regulates sleep cycles. In addition, physical activity reduces insomnia, a problem that particularly affects people who are depressed, anxious and very stressed. Doing sport is an ideal solution for anyone suffering from sleep disorders.

The importance of sport in medical careers

If we recognize the importance of physical activity in the medical environment, protocols are slowly being put in place to introduce it into the lives of patients. A study carried out in 2017 among hospitalized patients suffering from mental illnesses revealed a clear improvement in quality through physical exercise. This study shows the importance of implementing a physical activity program within a hospitalization course.

It is advisable to start physical exercise slowly, when you are not used to doing it. In addition, it must be as pleasant as possible. Generally speaking, walking is recommended because it is cost-effective, fairly accessible and you can choose the location, time and pace.

Patients are encouraged to perform 3 exercise sessions per week and increase the pace and duration as desired. Once the patient is used to this practice, they can increase the intensity.

Sport therefore has many benefits for health, both physical and mental. Conversely, taking care of your mental health can improve sports performance because it promotes restful sleep and better concentration during exercise. Mental health is as important as physical health. It should therefore not be neglected, including in the context of sporting activity.

It is important to note that sport is not a one-size-fits-all solution for all mental health issues, but it can be an effective tool to help manage certain symptoms and improve overall mental health. Results may vary depending on individuals and the conditions in which the sporting activity is practiced. It is always recommended to consult a qualified healthcare professional with any mental health questions or concerns.


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Mikkelsen K, Stojanovska L, Polenakovic M, Bosevski M, Apostolopoulos V. Exercise and mental health. Maturitas. 2017 Dec;106:48-56. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003. Epub 2017 Sep 7. PMID: 29150166.

Gordon BR, McDowell CP, Hallgren M, Meyer JD, Lyons M, Herring MP. Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms: Meta-analysis and Meta-regression Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Jun 1

Schuch FB, Vancampfort D, Rosenbaum S, Richards J, Ward PB, Stubbs B. Exercise improves physical and psychological quality of life in people with depression: A meta-analysis including the evaluation of control group response. Psychiatry Res. 2016 Jul

 Deenik, J., Kruisdijk, F., Tenback, D. et al. Physical activity and quality of life in long-term hospitalized patients with serious mental illness: a cross-sectional study. BMC Psychiatry 17, 298 (2017).

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Journal of Sport & Exercise psychology

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