How short exercise breaks taken at work improve mood

Exercise can boost your mood in many ways, even if performed in short bouts. Here’s how your workplace can benefit.


According to the World Health Organisation (1) and National Guidelines for Physical Activity (2), we should complete between 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise a week, between 75-150 minutes of higher intensity exercise and 2 strength based sessions a week.  That’s about 30-60 minutes of exercise on most days. This can seem out of reach for some, but short 2-10min movement breaks taken throughout a working day also count toward this goal. Short exercise bouts also benefit your overall health and contribute to improved mood and mental wellbeing.

There is extensive research linking exercise to health benefits such as reduced cardiovascular disease risk, weight loss, improved blood-glucose sensitivity, lowered blood pressure, improved circulation, increased lean muscle mass, improved bone density and increased range of joint motion. These outcomes reduce risk of both acute and chronic disease (3).

“There is also considerable evidence that both long and short duration exercise has a positive affect on brain function and mood”.


 In recent times, the association between exercise and mental wellbeing has been given considerable attention. With the enduring impact of our prolonged lockdowns and COVID-19 fight, there is an urgent need to ensure that we have attainable means for supporting a positive mindset and improving mood to prevent the spiralling effect of mental health decline. Exercise cannot resolve or prevent mental illness, however, exercise is a  factor that can benefit brain function and reduce mood decline. We have a choice to exercise or not, it’s under our control. Exercise of any duration can boost our mood and brain function (4-8). Here’s how:

1. Exercise can increase blood flow to the brain and also promote blood vessel growth within the brain. This stimulates the part of our brain responsible for reasoning and focus to perform better.

2. Moderate intensity exercise performed for short bouts can reduce stress hormones, reducing feelings of anxiety and worry.

3. Exercise promotes serotonin and norepinephrine which are ‘feel good’ hormones that can heighten positivity and improve mood.

4. Exercise increases serotonin which helps the brain regulate mood, sleep and apetite. Studies have linked exercise with decreases in chronic depression. 

5. Exercise reduces immune system chemicals such as cortisol that can worsen depression.

6. Exercise increases the release of endorphins, which positively impact  mood.

7. Exercise can help us sleep better. This happens for several reasons including making us feel more tired at night, by assisting digestion, relaxing our muscles, and helping to regulate our body clock with daily routines.  Sleep protects the brain from damage, reduces fatigue and improves wellbeing .

8. Exercise gives you a sense of purpose and accomplishment and this is linked to positivity in mindset. 

9. Exercise provides a distraction from stress and worries in life. People often feel a sense of flow when exercising, and this improves perspective and reasoning skills.

With lack of time being cited as a major barrior to exercise, there is plenty of research proving the positive effects of short bouts of exercise. Studies have concluded that reaching the targets for physical activity in long or short bouts are equally effective for physical and mental outcomes (9).

This supports the notion that short movement breaks taken at work will improve employee performance. Workplaces that take a proactive role in normalising movement breaks will create happier teams and also benefit financially from the improved output.

Health Breaks app facilitates short movement and breather breaks to promote positive mental and physical wellbeing. Employees are encouraged to select their 2-10 min activity based on their mood. We check-in, asking “how are you feeling today?” and then invite employees to choose a breather break, a stretch break, an energetic break or a healthy eating break. 

This month we are inspiring employees to challenge themselves with either exercise or breather breaks to boost their mood. 

Here are edited samples of the daily challenges:


  1. WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2020. Licence:  CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
  2. Australian Government, Department of Health, Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines – Adults (18 to 64 years),
  3. Nystoriak Matthew A., Bhatnagar Aruni, Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise, Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, Volume 5, 2018.
  4. Cooney GM, et al. Exercise for depression. JAMA. 2014;311:2432.
  5. Greer TL, et al. Improvements in psychosocial functioning and health-related quality of life following exercise augmentation in patients with treatment response but nonremitted major depressive disorder: Results from the TREAD study. Depression and Anxiety. 2016;33:870.
  6. Schuch FB, et al. Exercise as treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2016;77:42.
  7. Zschucke E, et al. Exercise and physical activity in mental disorders: Clinical and experimental evidence. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health. 2013;46:512.
  8. Anderson E, et al. Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2013;4:1.
  9. Saint‐MauricePF, Troiano RP , Matthews CE , and Kraus WE, Moderate‐to‐Vigorous Physical Activity and All‐Cause Mortality: Do Bouts Matter?, Journal of the American Heart Association, 2018.