Does Exercise Affect Mental Health?

Hey Fatty!

Yeah I’m talking to you, did I stutter?

Wait Wait, before you close this window hear me out.

Imagine ordering your coffee at your absolutely favourite coffee shop (where you secretly think the barista is giving you the eye) and they say “Hey Fatty”… Mortified? Yes, I would be too! Just typing the phrase makes me want to hide under my desk a little.

I reckon you have uttered those words or something very similar, and I know exactly who you have said them to.

Do me a favour and look at your phone. See anything? Maybe a reflection? Alright just head to the mirror. Yeah you got it! You and many other people have been so cruel to the one person that is so important to you – you guessed it it’s you.

Today I’m going to write about mental health and how exercise plays a role in body image and general health.

Body dysmorphia disorder (BDD) was first described by Italian physician Enrique Morselli in 1891 by using the term ‘dysmorphophobia’ defined as the fear of having a deformity. Patients with BDD think they have a physical defect, which affects their everyday life and causes a lot of social distress and occupational dysfunction et al T. J Hunt.

Is there a direct relationship between dieting and body dysmorphia or are we as a society being soft when it comes to the fact that obesity is on the rise and we need to be conscious about what we eat?

There is no definitive answer for the etymology of BDD. Some theories include unrealistic social standards, poor self-esteem, parental pressures and neurotransmitter imbalances et al T. J Hunt 2008.

In 2008, a study of 200 participants who had BDD, 58 endorsed a significant history of weight concern only 7 reported that weight was the primary issue and none identified weight as their sole concern. Those with weight concerns were also more likely to diet, excessively change their clothes, and excessively exercise in an attempt to improve their appearance.

What exactly does this all mean? Well from my interpretation it shows that although weight is a concern it was not the sole issue. Does exercise cause BDD? I’m not 100% sure but the studies indicate that BDD is more prevalent in patients undergoing cosmetic procedures and in those who have psychiatric comorbidities et al T. Hunt 2008.

So you look at yourself in the mirror and you don’t like what you see, you go to work feeling a tad chubby because your work pants are a bit tight after the Christmas festive season. Plus, you come to work and someone says ‘You Look Different’. You automatically translate those three words into OMG you got some gains girl. So, you feel anxious and stressed the whole day at work about what that person said and you analyse everything and get super snappy with people. You then torture yourself with just one coffee and no food for the rest of the day. Take that FATTY you say!  By the time you get home you’re absolutely defeated so you swing past Mr Murphy’s place (Dan Murphys #LiquorShop) and drink a glass of comfort. The next day, the cycle of abuse begins again.

So, we know that exercise is good for our body but is exercise good for our mental health and will it help us manage daily stresses?

Research shows exercise can help alleviate long-term depression. Studies also show that exercise is generally comparable to antidepressants for patients with major depressive disorder (MDD), which is clinical depression K Weir 2011.

Feeling a tad anxious? Regular workouts can help people prone to anxiety become less likely to panic when they experience an episode. After all, the body produces many of the same physical reactions — heavy perspiration, increased heart rate — in response to exercise – K Weir 2011.

How does one break the cycle of self-loathing, sabotage and negative thoughts, and start to exercise? A lot of people approach me for help to get fit, lose weight and feel good about themselves, and when they accomplish their goals they always thank me for making it happen. As much as I love the adoration, I can’t take all the credit because I can’t force people to train. I always tell my clients that they need to dig deep and find their ‘Why’ and use that Why to push themselves especially when they don’t feel like it or when it’s raining and freezing in winter. Everyone has a Why. Do you know yours? Your Why is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do. Your Why provides you with clarity, meaning and direction– Simon Sinek.

Exercise is absolutely essential for mental health and next time you decide to skip exercise think of it this way, exercise is a form of medication and your body needs it. You take your car for a tune up don’t you? Exercise is your tune up so get it done regularly.



If you need professional hope please contact your local GP or such agencies as Beyond Blue on

1300 22 4636 or




T J. Hunt, O Thienhaus, A Ellwood. The mirror lies, body dysmorphic disorder. American academy of family physicians. 2008 Jul 217-222.

S Sinek. Start with why, Dec 2011.

K Weir. The exercise effect- American psychological association, Dec 2011 V42 N011