Exercise Is Much More Than Just Weight Loss

Exercise is great, clearly, but it is often viewed as what we have to do in order to lose weight and ‘look good.’ But exercise is SO much more than that. Often when people go on a ‘diet,’ they restrict their food and (most) of the time, this can come with a restriction in nutrients. Whilst we may be losing weight, we also might be becoming nutrient deficient.

Professor Wittert, an endocrinologist at the University of Adelaide, summarises this nicely.

“People should not focus on weight, people should focus on health. Then you don’t engage in these diets where you restrict your nutrients, and where people get depressed because they regain weight, which is almost an inevitability.”

So, how exactly can regular exercise be useful for more than just weight loss?

Mental health:

  • Seven epidemiological studies found physical activity (PA) in a correlating factor in delaying or preventing the onset of mental disorders. (1)
  • Participants in a Dutch study found that 1hr/week of exercise reduced rates of anxiety, depression and substance abuse. (2)
  • The Dutch study at a 3-year follow-up were more likely to have improved recovery symptoms from their psychiatric disorder had they engaged in regular PA throughout. (2)
  • There have also been many more studies displaying significant positive correlations between increased PA and improved mental health outcomes. (3-6)

Patients with mental disorders also commonly present with co-morbidity of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory disorders and metabolic disorders(7,8) – all of which are correlated with an overweight or obese BMI, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and general unhealthy lifestyle habits. (9)

Physical activity is a method of being an alternative coping mechanism, especially for those with substance addictions. (10) Its mechanism of action has been noted to work as a distraction, provide an experience of mastery, changes in existing health/body schemas and attitudes towards health, as well as a shift from external to an internal locus of control.(10,11)

PA doesn’t have to be the standard gym session. PA is exactly what it says in its name – physical activity; whether that be walking, running, dancing, yoga, sports. Finding the right exercise that you enjoy, and that suits your current lifestyle, allowing you to be consistent, is what is most important.

The following guidelines are those that the Department of Health recommends: (12)

  • Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount.
  • Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.
  • Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.
  • Do muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.

The hardest part is just starting a program. Do what works for you, and you will not only be helping your physical health, but your brain will be loving you for it too.


  1. Zschucke E, Gaudlitz K, Ströhle A. Exercise and physical activity in mental disorders: clinical and experimental evidence. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health. 2013 Jan;46(Suppl 1):S12.
  2. Ten Have M, de Graaf R, Monshouwer K. Physical exercise in adults and mental health status: Findings from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study (NEMESIS). Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 2011 Nov 1;71(5):342-8.
  3. Wiles NJ, Haase AM, Gallacher J, Lawlor DA, Lewis G. Physical activity and common mental disorder: results from the Caerphilly study. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2007 Jan 31;165(8):946-54.
  4. Ströhle A, Höfler M, Pfister H, Müller AG, Hoyer J, Wittchen HU, Lieb R. Physical activity and prevalence and incidence of mental disorders in adolescents and young adults. Psychological medicine. 2007 Nov;37(11):1657-66.
  5. Pasco JA, Williams LJ, Jacka FN, Henry MJ, Coulson CE, Brennan SL, Leslie E, Nicholson GC, Kotowicz MA, Berk M. Habitual physical activity and the risk for depressive and anxiety disorders among older men and women. International psychogeriatrics. 2011 Mar;23(2):292-8.
  6. Goodwin RD. Association between physical activity and mental disorders among adults in the United States. Preventive medicine. 2003 Jun 1;36(6):698-703.
  7. Lin WC, Zhang J, Leung GY, Clark RE. Chronic physical conditions in older adults with mental illness and/or substance use disorders. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2011 Oct 1;59(10):1913-21.
  8. Scott K, McGee MA, Schaaf D, Baxter J. Mental–physical comorbidity in an ethnically diverse population. Social science & medicine. 2008 Mar 1;66(5):1165-73.
  9. Scott D, Happell B. The high prevalence of poor physical health and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours in individuals with severe mental illness. Issues in mental health nursing. 2011 Aug 19;32(9):589-97.
  10. Read JP, Brown RA. The role of physical exercise in alcoholism treatment and recovery. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 2003 Feb;34(1):49.
  11. Stathopoulou G, Powers MB, Berry AC, Smits JA, Otto MW. Exercise interventions for mental health: a quantitative and qualitative review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 2006 May 1;13(2):179-93.
  12. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines [Internet]. Department of Health. 2018 [cited 5 June 2018]. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines

Leave a Reply