Cardio to improve mental health

You’ve probably heard that exercise is great for mental health and to combat anxiety and depression. But with so many different exercise options, it can be difficult to know where to start. While exercise needs to include different workout style to reap all the benefits, starting with some cardio can do wonders to improve your mental health.

First off, what is cardio?

Endurance aerobic exercise or ‘cardio’ is continuous exercise that increases your heart rate. Think running, vigorous cycling, swimming, boxing and the list goes on. 

Why does cardio help?

Cardio has many great benefits. Not only does it improve your cardiorespiratory fitness and reduces risk of chronic diseases, it also releases endorphins in your brain. These endorphins act as a natural painkiller which can help you improve sleep and in turn reduce your stress and anxiety.

How much cardio do I need to do?

The Australian guidelines recommend that an average adult accumulates 2.5h to 5h of moderate activity or 1.25h to 2.5h of vigorous activity over a week. While these numbers may seem like a lot, research shows that even 5min of activity a day can alleviate anxiety.

Our recommendation is that you start slow and build up your activity, adding an extra 5min a week until you reach the recommended guidelines. By then you should have already seen a boost in your mood as well as in your physical and mental health. 

What exercises should I do?

This very much depends on your preference and your ability. If you have been inactive for a while or are worried about any activity, you might want to talk to your health practitioner before starting anything. 

We’ve gathered below a few examples of cardio exercises to get you started but there are many different options out there. You just need to find what works best for you.


A relatively cheap and easy place to start is running. All you need is a pair of shoes and to walk out the door. If you’re lacking the motivation just tell yourself you’ll be out for 5min and then you can decide whether you want to go a little further or just go home. No pressure. 

If you find yourself motivated to get out but can’t run continuously for long, you can alternate walking and running. As you get more experienced and more endurent you can shorten the walking breaks and run longer or faster.


Swimming is another great activity and it’s easier on the joints than running. Once again if you find yourself out of breath quite fast, try resting after each length. As you get used to it you’ll be able to swim two lengths in a row before having to rest, then three, then four and so on.


Cycling combines both exercise and practicality. Next time you need to go somewhere, skip the car and take your bike instead. No need to worry about parking and you’ll get a good workout in the process, especially if there are a few hills along the way. 

Group exercises

If you’re looking for more of a social workout, fear not, both cycling and running can be done in groups, alternatively there are many group classes that can also work your cardio And therefore improve your mental health. Group classes can also be great if you’re battling with mental health. Check out this article that can help you decide whether specialised classes are right for you. Boxing, dancing, HIIT are all examples of classes that will get your heart rate up and boost your mood.

If you’d like more support to get started, why not join Mood Active? Mood Active helps fight mental health through exercise and has a range of small group classes guaranteed to get your heart pumping. These classes include cardio tennis, body circuit and boxercise. Click here to contact us and get started.


Photo by Andrew Tanglao on Unsplash