There’s no question that living an active lifestyle benefits both your mind and body. After all, your brain and body are intricately connected. Not only does staying active affect your physical body functions, but certain chemical reactions (or lack thereof) can alter your mental health as well. People are now realizing the positive link between physical exercise and mental health. 

If you deal with chronic stress or depression, your physical body feels the effects. The lack of motivation or energy leaves you less likely to exercise. Additionally, you’re more likely to turn to poor eating habits. Junk food, binge eating, and emotional snacking can all be part of this vicious cycle.

Also, if you are dealing with autoimmune diseases you’re less likely to be active. Chronic pain, digestive issues, or constant fatigue leave you physically and mentally drained.1

These symptoms can contribute to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Stress and pain flood your body with cortisol and adrenaline. This influx leaves little room for the healthy, “feel good” hormones. I’m talking about serotonin or “happy chemicals” called endorphins. I’ll review this in more depth later.

The physical exercise and mental health connection is a fascinating one. However, not everyone thinks this way. Conventional medicine doesn’t connect your mental health to your physical health. Rather, it treats symptoms instead of looking at the whole body to get to the root cause of your condition. In functional medicine of course we consider the whole person – physically and mentally. When considering optimal wellbeing, mental health and physical health go hand in hand.

I will tell you more about how physical exercise and mental health coincide. Additionally, I’ll give you tips on how to achieve optimal mental and physical health. Let’s start by discussing what affects your ability to reach optimal mental and physical health.

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Lifestyle Factors For Optimal Physical Exercise and Mental Health

Genetics often get blamed for mental health and physical health issues. It’s true, genetic makeup does play a role in your risk for developing chronic health conditions. However, circumstances that you can control have a much greater impact. Let’s talk about these factors and the steps you can take to ensure an optimal mental and physical health connection. 


Food can be a key contributor to poor physical exercise and mental health. Let me explain. 

The Standard American Diet, or SAD, is one of the worst choices for a healthy diet. It is full of processed and inflammatory foods. Not only that, but it’s high in sodium, trans fats, and refined sugars. This type of diet also lacks important omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins.2

Not getting enough healthy foods and vitamins negatively impacts your brain function. For example, alcohol and caffeine can make anxiety and stress worse. MSGs found in many processed foods can lead to health issues like brain fog, leaky gut, and autoimmunity. Vitamin deficiencies can also cause brain fog symptoms and lead to depression and anxiety. This is particularly true of vitamin B12 deficiencies. Vitamin B12 supports nervous system function and healthy red blood cell production. People with B12 deficiency are more likely to score lower on cognitive tests.3

Taking a brain support supplement like Neourolive™ can promote optimal memory, focus, and cognitive health. 

Food sensitivities can also be the culprit of many physical symptoms. Even if you are eating a healthy diet like the AIP diet, you may still deal with sensitivities. While gluten and dairy are usual suspects, other foods can trigger sensitivities. Following an elimination diet helps you pinpoint exactly which foods are causing you problems. 

In order to improve physical exercise and mental health, eat more nutrient-rich foods. My favorites include organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, wild-caught seafood, and cage-free chicken.

Acute vs Chronic Stress

Stress isn’t just a feeling. It’s an actual release of hormones that your body produces when it’s met with a challenge. Stress is part of the world we live in, and it’s important to learn whether you’re dealing with acute vs chronic stress. It matters, because both can influence your physical and mental health. 

Let’s go deeper into acute vs chronic stress. Acute stress is when your body responds to a sudden, short-term situation. It can be a physical injury, a social event, or a death in the family. Chronic stress involves more long-term scenarios. These can include troubled relationships, poor diet, lack of quality sleep, or work situations.

Cortisol is the most common stress hormone. When you’re in a stressful situation, cortisol tells your immune system to gear up for a challenge. Your immune system responds by producing inflammation. After the event is over, cortisol signals your immune system to calm down and return to normal.

This system works well when you encounter acute stress. But too many of us are dealing with chronic stress. When you have constant stressors in your life, your immune system never really gets to turn off. Your inflammatory immune response runs for too long. Eventually it goes rogue, attacking your own tissues. Pretty soon, your stress hormones try to suppress the response but go overboard. This leaves you with a weakened immune system. 

Relieving your stress is the fourth pillar of The Myers Way®, and for good reason. There are ways to understand where your stress is coming from. Furthermore, you can take steps to relieve it naturally. Together, you can balance the mental health and physical health connection.

Activity Level

Now you know how stress impacts mental health. Let’s talk about how fitness and mental health go hand in hand. You may have heard that a sedentary lifestyle puts you at higher risk of a number of health conditions. Part of this is because we simply aren’t as active as our ancestors were.

There are so many physical benefits of exercise. It helps promote better sleep, weight loss, and stronger muscles. What many are learning is that there’s a correlation between sleep and mental health. Those who don’t sleep well often struggle with anger, frustration, and moodiness. 4

Taking a quality supplement like Rest & Restore Maxcan help relax the body and promote healthy, restful sleep. This small change alone can improve your physical activity and mental health.

Additionally, there is a direct link to exercise and its role in your mood. Studies show that exercise can alleviate mild to moderate depression. In some cases, it does as well as harsh antidepressant medication. It can also have a positive effect on anxiety, stress, memory, and hyperactivity.5

The exercise and brain health connection is amazing!

Here’s how it works. When you exercise, your nervous system releases chemicals called endorphins. In fact, the word endorphin comes from two words. “Endogenous” which means “from the body,” and “morphine,” which is an opioid pain reliever. Endorphins are your body’s natural response to relieve stress and pain. They work similarly to opioid medications.6

When you do lengthy exercises, endorphins create a euphoric feeling in your body. This is why you feel happy after a great workout!

Exercise isn’t the only way to stimulate your body to release endorphins. Volunteering, pilates, eating dark chocolate, and laughing signal your body to release endorphins. Who doesn’t like eating chocolate or laughing?

Hormones and Mental Health

Now you understand how diet, physical activity, and stress can affect mental health. Next, let’s discuss how your hormones factor into your mental and physical health. I’d like to talk about three hormones in particular – cortisol, adrenaline, and serotonin.

Your body produces about 50 hormones that impact every part of your existence. Growth, metabolism, mood, temperature, heart rate, sleep, and sexual function are all governed by these chemical messengers. While all of your hormones are important, there are a few that serve critical roles in your physical and mental well-being.


I mentioned cortisol earlier and how it relates to stress. After all, it’s called “the stress hormone.” The main function of this hormone produced by the adrenal gland is to respond to stress. However, cortisol also plays a role in controlling inflammation and regulating blood flow. In danger mode, the adrenal gland boosts production. This increases heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and overall inflammation. Most of your cells have cortisol receptors. In times of high alert, cortisol can shut down processes such as digestion. 

Learning how to eliminate stress is key to keeping cortisol levels in check. Meditation, prayer, exercise, and socializing are great ways to help manage cortisol. I’ll discuss more ways to balance your physical activity and mental health in just a minute. If you want to test your cortisol levels at home, I recommend using the home cortisol test. LetsGetChecked is a great brand. It measures adrenal performance or stress through a simple finger prick blood test. The results are available online so you can share them with your functional medicine doctor. 


Like cortisol, your adrenal glands secret adrenaline in response to stressful situations. Some of the neurons in your central nervous system also produce small amounts of adrenaline. Adrenaline comes from the amino acid L-tyrosine.7 It helps you think and act fast in response to danger by sending extra blood to your heart and large muscles. It also helps block pain.

Believe it or not, small amounts of stress are actually necessary. However, a constant production of stress hormones is damaging. When your adrenal glands go into overdrive, it affects everything. In fact, it changes your mood, sleep, and libido. Additionally, it impacts the immune system, blood sugar, appetite, thyroid, and much more. It also drains your adrenal glands and micronutrient reserves. This puts a strain on physical exercise and mental health.

Supplements that support adrenal function can also help. These support optimal levels of L-tyrosine, vitamins C and B vitamins riboflavin, B6 and B5. Remember, these nutrients are critical for adrenal hormone production.   

For more information, check out my interview with Dan Kalish, IFMCP. In it, we discuss how the adrenal glands affect autoimmunity and gut health. Also, we talk about how tracking adrenal gland repair can help reverse autoimmunity.


This mood-boosting hormone helps with several body functions. For example, serotonin assists with learning and memory, regulating sleep, and digestion. It also helps with some muscular functions. It is primarily produced in the gut. Research suggests that adequate serotonin levels can increase longevity by as much as 10 years!8

Low levels of serotonin can contribute to health problems. It can lead to depression, migraines, weight gain, insomnia, and cravings. This can lead to Candida overgrowth or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

A healthy gut means a healthy brain. The key to treating mood imbalances is recognizing they are actually rooted in your gut, not your brain. That said, the goal should be to restore the balance of your intestinal flora. To do this, you need to focus on treating infections in your gut. In the meantime, you can support your body’s production of serotonin through your diet. I recommend eating foods high in tryptophan. You can find this in cage-free chicken, wild-caught fish, turkey, or eggs. 

For optimal health, all body processes should work together in a perfectly balanced routine. This is especially true of our hormones.

How to Harmonize Physical Exercise and Mental Health

When looking at your overall health, remember that physical exercise and mental health work together. Harmony in your mental health will influence your physical health, and vice versa. So how do you do that? First, I recommend starting with the three lifestyle factors I mentioned earlier. To recap, it includes diet, stress, and physical activity.

How to harmonize exercise and mental health – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®How to harmonize exercise and mental health - Infographic - Amy Myers MD® to harmonize exercise and mental health – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®

Eat a Nutrient-Rich Diet

Eliminate inflammatory foods such as gluten and dairy. Also, get rid of toxic foods like caffeine, alcohol, processed sugars, and simple carbohydrates. Eat a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables, and leafy greens. For meat, choose grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and wild-caught salmon. There are several delicious ways to enjoy these foods. 

The food you eat should be fuel for your body. Make it your aim to pack each meal with nutrient-rich foods. Giving your body what it needs gives you the structure you need to achieve a greater balance between physical activity and mental health. 

Eliminate Stress

When you’re stressed, it affects both physical exercise and mental health. Our stress response is a means of self-preservation. Our ancestors used it while facing immediate, life-threatening situations. 

Unfortunately, that response isn’t ideal for the type of chronic, ongoing stress we face today. That’s why it’s so crucial to make time to de-stress! I love spending time in my infrared sauna or taking a swim in my pool. It’s a great way to de-stress from a long day. Even a brisk walk around the block can calm me down! 

I also recommend ZenAdapt™. This is an adaptogen blend that supports optimal cortisol levels. As a result, it helps promote a balanced stress response.

Get Active

You don’t need lengthy, strenuous workouts to get endorphins. Just 30 minutes of movement a day can do wonders! That’s right, exercise can lower your stress and boost your mood. It also strengthens your immune system and promotes optimal sleep. As I said before, sleep and mental health are deeply connected, so make sure you prioritize it! 

There are several online physical fitness options available to help you balance fitness and mental health. Some apps specialize in weight lifting, while others focus on cardio or Pilates. Many of these are even free! Taking a nature walk is also a simple but effective way to boost your activity level. Finally, dancing around your house is a terrific way to get your body moving. 

When you think about achieving optimal health, remember the connection between physical exercise and mental health. Taking steps to improve your mental health will have a profoundly positive effect on your physical health, and vice versa! So get out there and find creative ways to increase your activity level. Optimize your diet and relieve your stress. That way, you can achieve greater harmony between your mental health and physical health. 


Why is mental health important?

If you have poor mental health from stress or depression, your body’s physical health will be affected because you will be less likely to exercise and more likely to turn to junk food and poor eating habits such as binge eating.

What are endorphins?

Endorphins are chemicals released by the pituitary gland in high levels. When you do lengthy exercise, endorphins create a euphoric feeling in your body, which makes you happy! Volunteering, yoga, eating dark chocolate, and laughing are other ways to trigger your body to release these happy chemicals

How can I harmonize my mental and physical health?

Eating a nutrient-rich diet, exercise, and finding ways to destress can get your brain working in harmony! Your mental health and physical health should be thought of together, not separate

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Article Sources

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