Work it out – improving your mental health through exercise

Exercise is one of the best things you can do to preserve mental health or recover from mental illness. Exercise programs can be low cost, have no unwanted side-effects and are universally available ensuring everyone can find an exercise that suits them.

Australia’s leading mental health and exercise researcher Dr Simon Rosenbaum of the University of NSW and Black Dog Institute has conducted a number of studies testing the impact of exercise on mental health.

“Physical activity plays a really important role in not only maintaining positive health and wellbeing, but also helping people who may be experiencing psychological distress or symptoms of mental illness," says Dr Rosenbaum.

Sixty percent (60%) of Australians are inactive, which means most of us have an easy ticket to better health.

In association with UNSW and Black Dog Institute, EML created a series of videos with Dr Simon Rosenbaum to promote the positive impact of exercise on mental health.


Your mental health

A lot of high-performing people find that exercise helps manage day-to-day stresses.

Benefits include:

  • Improved physical health
  • Better quality sleep
  • More energy
  • Reduced risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes

Physical activity that involves other people has the added benefit of increasing your social connectedness, adding to the mental health benefits.

Some jobs and industries, such as emergency services, have a higher risk of mental illness such as PTSD. For first responders, being physically active can be equally important for mental health as it is for physical health.



Think about what will work for you and how you can adapt your goals to achieve something every day. Having an exercise partner or social support can also make a big difference to your motivation.

These are Dr Rosenbaum’s top tips for getting started:

  1. Keep it simple
    When your motivation is down pick a small goal, whether it be walking to the mail box, around the block or to the shops to get a bottle of milk.

  2. Find an activity you enjoy
    Find something you can make part of your daily routine, even something small is better than nothing.

  3. Keep a diary
    Write down your exercise goals (no matter how small or big they may be) and review them regularly.

Mobile phone can be used as a pedometer to record your steps. As your step count increases, your fitness improves!

Exercise does not replace prescribed medical treatments. If you have concerns, talk to a health professional or discuss them with your case manager, psychologist or exercise physiologist.


Six videos to help you Work it Out and move for mental health

Introduction: Exercise your mood with Dr Simon Rosenbaum >

Good mental health through exercise >

Getting started >

Keeping it social >

Exercise for emergency service and defence personnel >

Supporting PTSD with exercise >


Further resources

Black Dog Institute

Exercise & Sports Science Australia

Expert Guidelines: Diagnosis and Treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Emergency Service Workers