The Best Kinds of Exercise For Mental Health, According to Research

Because yes, exercise is a powerful mood-supporting tool.

By: Dominique Michelle Astorino

More than ever, people are turning to exercise not for a weight or aesthetic goal, but for a happier, healthier lifestyle. The more we talk about mental health in the mainstream world (hooray for health being normalized!), the more we’re also talking about how to best support our mental health — and that includes our workouts. We’ve known that exercise, in general, can help improve your mood. But, the benefits might even be more significant than we previously thought — and it doesn’t require hours in the gym. In fact, in research on more than 1 million Americans, those who exercise have almost 2 fewer “bad days” every month. 

What does that mean for you? Movement might truly be medicine. To figure out the right dose and what you can expect, here’s a quick overview of what might improve happiness, mood balance, and mental health.

Types of Exercise for Mental Health

Which workout should you choose to get out of a rut (or stay mentally resilient)? Some suggestions ahead…

Running (and walking!)

You’ve heard about runner’s high — and it’s no lie. But, what you might not realize is that your rush is not primarily endorphins, it’s endocannabinoids. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same feel-good receptor system targeted by CBD products, only running is much more of a sure thing to give you the mental boost, as well as decrease feelings of anxiety and stress. 

It’s probably the reason why many different studies on running suggest it can help battle depression and other mental health challenges we all face as human beings. 

But what about just starting with walking? Running can be intimidating for beginners — heck, it can be intimidating for people who’ve been exercising for decades! So start with walks. When you’re feeling down, this might feel a little more manageable than gearing up for a run. Some research even suggests that low-impact exercise could be even better for your mental health. According to Harvard Medical School, “for most of us, the real value is in low-intensity exercise sustained over time. That kind of activity spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections.” 

The takeaway? If you aren’t a fan of running, walking comes with benefits too. 

Don’t have time to get outside for a walk or a run or need a quick walking workout to squeeze in between work meetings? Try this Walking Fitness class with FitOn trainer Bree Koegel.


You didn’t think we were gonna skip over yoga, did you? Yoga has been shown to have positive effects on the brain and overall mental health

Medical experts are fascinated by how much yoga can help with stress management, mental resilience, and overall wellbeing. 

Get started by browsing the FitOn yoga category to find a class that speaks to you and what type of yoga flow you’re searching for today. 

Running and Yoga/Meditation

So the combination of runner’s high and mindfulness bliss might just be the ultimate mental-health-hygiene routine. A study published in Nature showed that combining meditation and running helped reduce ruminative thoughts and depressive symptoms. The mindfulness you experience in yoga can be similar to meditation, too — so give that a shot! Schedule some yoga classes, some meditation sessions, and some walks or runs!

Browse the FitOn meditation category and schedule in some weekly meditations to complement your current fitness routine. 


Similar to the effects of running and walking — but with the added benefit of being outside. Sunshine plus fresh air and movement is truly the ultimate cocktail for well-being. In fact, just 20 minutes outside can lift your mood. 

Research shows that natural environments were associated with greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy, and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression.

All of that can be achieved in just 1-hour per week or about 10 minutes per day.


There are so many studies showing that moving your body in a carefree, whimsical, fun way (ie, dancing!) can improve your mood and brain health. Learn some sweet dance moves and break a sweat with FitOn dance classes.

Cardio Is Key

While all forms of exercise are good for your health, there’s another (broad) category that directly applies to this endeavor: aerobic exercise, otherwise known as “cardio.” Most of the studies cite aerobic exercise (high AND low intensity!) as the key to a mood boost and mental health, so keep that in mind when you book yourself a HIIT session.

Make it Work For You 

One study showed that when it comes to exercise and mental health, frequency — how consistently you’re exercising — matters more than the rest (meaning, you could walk for 30 minutes or do an hour-long high-intensity exercise bootcamp, and it’s all impacting your mental health about the same).

All of these types of exercise to support mental wellness don’t take much time, don’t have to be intense, and can truly be as simple as a walk. 

Take Care of Yourself!

Ups and downs are inevitable, and mental health struggles come and go — it’s part of life. The key is not waiting for a good day. The good days will come if you move. So, if we can start by moving together, we can feel better, be empowered, and have more better days ahead. 

If you haven’t joined our community yet, sign up for free and get access to unlimited free workouts and meditations that make it easier and way more fun to find time for fitness and self-care.