5 Workouts That Are Actually Beneficial to Your Mental Health (And 4 That Aren’t)

April 27th 2017

Kyle Fitzpatrick

Exercising is like a not-so-secret way to unlock superpowers within you.

Sure, some of those superpowers are fairly basic — like reduced stress and, um, living longer — but the beauty of exercise is that certain activities can help with certain mental ailments. These activities aren’t anything complex and are accessible as they are fun.

To help you get in your best physical and mental state, here are five workouts that are known to help the body and the brain (and four that might do more harm than good).


1. Running builds new brain cells — and can cure hangovers.

Running is the most elemental workout and has been proven to be wholly beneficial. Even as little as five to ten minutes of running a day can improve your health.

What’s most fascinating about running is that it also has the capacity to rebuild brain cells. In a study of exercises on rats published last year in the Journal of Physiology, scientists found that the animals that ran wheels saw an increase in the production of new brain cells compared with animals that participated in resistance training or interval training. The further the rats ran, the more brain cells were produced.

It’s unsurprising that this form of exercise is a shockingly great hangover remedy. Studies have found that when rats participated in strenuous aerobics like running after drinking, their brains matched that as their sober counterparts. The rats that drank and did nothing? Their brains dwindled. Let that sink in every weekend.


2. For people with concentration problems like attention deficit disorder (ADD), karate may be a solution.

Karate is an activity of both the mind and the body. Accordingly, it's unsurprising that the martial art helps maintain attention and instill a sense of self-discipline.

The sport has been particularly effective for children since the balance of meditation with coordinated, repetitive actions can tame the distractions associated with attention disorders. While doctors praise the effects, they warn that sports like karate cannot cure ADD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The activity is instead a useful intervention.


3. Walking can boost your creativity.

If you’ve been feeling a little locked in your thoughts, get up and walk around to get an easy boost in creativity. Seriously, in 2014, doctors at Stanford found walking to be an effective way to boost a person’s creativity by 60 percent.

The results were unchanged if the walking was indoors or outdoors. However, note that time outdoors in nature can boost creativity as well.


4. Interval training might be helpful for those with schizophrenia.

Interval training are exercises that switch between intense workouts and lighter workouts (or breaks, in general). The practice is simple and lauded for providing health benefits very quickly.

This style of working out is also greatly beneficial for those coping with schizophrenia, a chronic and severe mental disorder that can affect concentration and one’s ability to be grounded in reality. Two studies found interval training to reduce anxiety and depression in persons with schizophrenia, two of the most problematic byproducts of the disorder. Moreover, it increases positivity and wellness.


5. Dance your way away from a degenerating mind.

Aerobic activities are proven to be an effective means of preventing degenerative mental diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. But one activity has proven particularly effective: dance.

Dancing is uniquely stimulating because it combines coordinated listening with movement. Studies have also found that dancing lowers a person's risk of dementia because of the unique social element involved.

Diseases like Parkinson’s also benefit from dance too: rhythmic auditory stimulation — techniques like marching to music used in therapy — can be useful in “reducing gait impairment” by encouraging internal timing. This is important considering little actions like synchronizing footsteps present a unique challenge for those with Parkinson’s.


A few activities might actually harm the mind or exacerbate problems. For example: in some cases, exercise can enable addiction.

Exercise can be a safe, healthy solution for curbing addictions. It can also exaggerate or reveal addictive qualities, too.

Because exercise can produce new brain cells, you “create a greater capacity to learn.” On the positive end, new cells create more opportunities to learn. The negative aspect of this is that idle cells can attach to addicting activities thus enabling bad behavior. Moreover, exercise in general offers endorphins that can create a unique addiction in and of itself and is enabled by wearable technology intended to track fitness.

It doesn't end there either: team sports are a more serious addiction threat since you’re gaining new brain cells in an environment that encourages hard work and hard play.


Ultramarathoning can take you great distances, while shrinking your brain.

One would assume that ultramarathons — runs that span over the 26.2 mile length of a marathon — might have a negative impact because they’re so dang long. Well, you're correct.

These exaggerated, sometimes days long runs have myriad negative impacts but are most concerning because they shrink the brain due to a lack of stimulation. While the shrinking does reverse itself, the cause comes from staring at roads for miles and miles, day upon day, upon day, without a change in scenery.


Yoga can pose a risk to those with bipolar disorder.

While many assume yoga is all about mindful zen-ning, not everyone gets the desired result: yoga can be detrimental for those who are bipolar.

Some with the disorder found yoga exaggerated their problems: the exercise enabled depression, caused agitation as a result of rapid breathing, and caused frustration.


If you work out too much, you might get depressed.

Like these addictive exercises and long runs, over-training — a syndrome associated with exercising beyond the point that your body can recover — can cause depression.

Exercises causes your hormones to change and these shifts can “instigate severe depression." Thankfully, over-training typically does not affect those who casually exercise but it is a problem for a third of athletes.