Sports are one of the best allies for mental health. Exercise both in our daily life and in our daily life helps us feel better. But does that mean it prevents the onset of mental disorders such as anxiety or depression?

There are several studies that answer this question in the affirmative. For example, a study by the research team of Gabriel Rodriguez, professor at the Faculty of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences (INEF) at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, which was published in 2015. in the Journal of Sports Psychology.

The main finding was that “subjects with high to moderate levels of general physical activity and leisure time have higher levels of mental health than those with low levels of physical activity.” In addition, the study authors found that ” the level of physical activity performed during leisure time is inversely associated with vulnerability to mental disorders. ”

The study was conducted with a sample of over 1400 people aged 15 to 74 living in the Community of Madrid who were interviewed to find out about the physical activity they did – in their free time, at work and commuting – for example, their mental health status. 15 percent suffered from some type of mental disorder, and 19.8 percent did not work well.

When assessing only physical activity in their free time, it was noted that the risk of suffering a mental illness in fairly active people (those who engaged in physical exercise with a high or moderate degree of stress) was reduced by more than 50%. one hundred compared to not active enough.

What mechanisms explain the link between exercise and mental health?

How does sports change our brain? The authors of this study argue that there is still insufficient scientific evidence to explain the power of exercise against mental illness. “An attempt has been made to establish a biochemical causal relationship between the effects of physical activity on mental health with no definite results,” they report. However, “it has been found that social support and commitment associated with physical activity can significantly explain the observed effects on mood change.”

While the exact physiological mechanisms are not known, there are very valuable clues and clues about what happens in our bodies when we exercise. Ivan Piko, psychologist and author of, says exercise undoubtedly “improves the quality of life and overall well-being.”

With regard to the specific mechanisms involved in this beneficial effect, this points to the hypothesis that some of the main neurotransmitters (substances used by neurons to communicate with each other) are activated by physical activity. They will be hormones of the so-called happiness quartet: serotonin, endorphin, oxytocin and dopamine.


Serotonin is a hormone that is released, according to Pico, when “we feel important. Increases our self-esteem and self-confidence. ” Exercise helps liberate them because it involves overcoming difficulties and heightens the sense of being part of a group with which we identify. Not surprisingly, people with depression and anxiety have very low levels of this hormone.


“Endorphin acts in the brain as if it were pain relieving,” says the psychologist. In fact, it is often referred to as natural morphine. It separates from exercise to promote a state of relaxation. Its release is especially beneficial against stress and anxiety states.


It is a pleasure neurotransmitter. It is a secret when something stimulates us or makes us feel good. In sports, Pico argues that “aspects such as overcoming difficulties or the approval of other people are enjoyable, which makes us keep going.”


It is a hormone responsible for the balance of emotional and emotional connections. Through sports practice, interpersonal relationships are established that contribute to the release of this hormone.

The psychological benefits of sports

Regardless of the specific role of certain substances that have been simplified in this article, sports affect our emotional well-being. Here are some of the psychological benefits it promotes:

  • improves overall fitness, which reduces the likelihood of stress, anxiety and other disorders.
  • Because it stimulates the release of the same substances that are released when taking certain drugs, it can reduce drug use.
  • Promotes sensory stimulation by focusing on the ball, teammates, coach or the rules of the game.
  • Improves psychomotor skills.
  • Encourages interpersonal and intrapersonal communication (helps to get to know yourself better).
  • Build personal self-esteem by overcoming challenges.
  • Improves scheduling by adhering to schedule and discipline.
  • Those who play sports usually surround themselves with people with healthy habits who eat well, do not smoke, etc.
  • Improves independence and a sense of responsibility.
  • Stimulates the work of emotional intelligence (self-control of emotions, self-knowledge …).
  • Promotes social skills.
  • Improves empathy in the face of failure or victory, and in the face of injuries to other athletes.
  • Reduces subjective fatigue and increases stress resistance.
  • Increases personal self-efficacy by making you feel able to cope with difficult situations.
  • Has a positive effect on resilience, which allows you to overcome difficulties.

What sports are best for improving mental health?

Pico believes that, in principle, there are no more effective sports disciplines against mental disorders. “The most important thing is to adapt the sport to the age, abilities and needs of each person and whoever practices it will be able to succeed.”

When asked whether it is preferable to choose an individual or a team discipline, the expert replies that each modality has its own advantages: “Individual exercises improve skills such as independence or self-improvement, and this collective sport promotes, first of all, interpersonal relationships “.

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