Mental health and physical activity

Physical activity promotes good health, improves mood and sleep, boosts energy, and reduces stress. Physical activity can prevent certain mental health problems and can in many cases be used alongside other treatment methods.

An older couple walking in nature

The effects of regular physical activity as a method of prevention and treatment are well-documented. This applies to both the immediate effect in connection with the activity itself and the long-term effects.

Physical activity boosts well-being and energy

Physical activity is important in looking after and improving mental and physical health. Regular physical activity improves our physical fitness and makes us better equipped to cope with the demands and challenges of everyday life.

It is recommended that adults and the elderly have at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. The level of activity should be sufficiently intense to make you feel warm and a little breathless. If you are able to do more, the benefits will be even greater. The 30 minutes can be divided into several shorter periods, for example by taking two or more short walks a day. You should also reduce the amount of time you sit still by breaking it up with active breaks.

Active steps to better physical and mental health

Start gently and gradually become more active through daily chores

Look for opportunities to become more physically active in your everyday life. This could for example include walking or cycling to and from work, taking the stairs, doing housework, and taking a walk or two during the day.

Learn how physical activity affects your body

Your body’s response to physical activity that increases your heart rate and causes you to sweat can be similar to the body’s responses to certain types of anxiety, such as palpitations, high heart rate and sweating. This is completely normal and nothing to worry about.

Many people overexert themselves. To begin with, increasing your level of physical activity can cause you to feel tired immediately after the activity itself. To experience mastery and really benefit from your exercise, it is important to start at a level that is right for you, gradually increase your level of activity and intensity, and find a good balance between being active and resting. In the longer term, most people find they have more energy and can take on more in their everyday lives.

Choose an activity you enjoy

Starting with an activity you find fun or enjoyable to do can have a positive effect on your emotions and mood.

Arrange to do activities with other people

It can be easier to get started with regular physical activity if you arrange to exercise with someone else. Being active with other people gives you a sense of togetherness. Exercising in a group also provides you with opportunities to make new friends and contacts.

Seek support to get started

Ask someone you know whether they would like to take part in an activity with you. It can be enjoyable to have a neighbour, friend or relative as a training or walking partner. Many people benefit from keeping an activity diary or using digital aids such as the Heia meg health and fitness app. Health professionals can also provide invaluable support.

The effects of physical activity

Physical activity can

  • be a source of enjoyment and pleasure, life development and a positive life skill
  • positively affect mood
  • boost energy levels in everyday life
  • reduce stress
  • improve self-esteem
  • improve sleep
  • offer a sense of togetherness and improve quality of life
  • suppress withdrawal symptoms
  • improve weight control
  • reduce anxiety and depression


According to the national recommendations, regular physical activity can reduce anxiety. However, even a single high-intensity workout can help reduce anxiety.


The positive effects of physical activity as a treatment method in connection with mild to moderate forms of depression are well-documented. Some studies show that physical activity can reduce depressive symptoms just as well as drug treatment using antidepressants.

Physical activity offers in Norway

A wide variety of public, voluntary and private organisations offer opportunities for physical activity. Many of them offer outdoor activities and walking groups, as well as sessions in swimming pools, climbing walls, obstacle courses, gyms and dance studios.

Healthy Life Centres

Many municipalities have Healthy Life Centres (Frisklivssentraler). This is a municipal health service which offers guidance and support to people who want to become physically active. In addition to their own services, the Healthy Life Centres also offer an overview of other activities and services that are available within the municipalities.

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Content provided by The Norwegian Directorate of Health

The Norwegian Directorate of Health. Mental health and physical activity. [Internet]. Oslo: The Directorate of e-health; updated Monday, October 18, 2021 [retrieved Friday, December 1, 2023]. Available from:

Last updated Monday, October 18, 2021