The Transformative Impact of Exercise on Self-Esteem

by Gabriella Cardoso | Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

Everybody has that tiresome friend who constantly invites them for walks, running, or going to the gym. If you do not have one, I am here to convince you to take that walk or lift some weights a couple of times a week. I advocate for this because it has helped me obtain self-esteem and build a sense of self-efficacy–which was low at a point in my life. This lack of self-esteem led to personal problems that interfered with my everyday life and interactions with friends and loved ones. Striving for good levels of self-esteem is essential for mental health because self-esteem frames how we judge and view ourselves. If we do not look at ourselves in a good light, we may feel less motivated, incapable of accomplishing goals, or engaging in relationships. Self-esteem is intrinsically related to psychological well-being, protecting us against mental issues. Given this relationship, what is a cheap, efficient, natural, and uncontradictory solution for low self-esteem? You guessed right: exercise! 

Exercise is crucial for good self-esteem and thinking positively about ourselves. The ratio of children and adolescents with behavioral or psychological problems ranges from ten to twenty percent. If interventions start early and give space to build exercise practice, it would also raise children's sense of self-efficacy, which–in social psychology–means understanding what they can accomplish. It may also ease symptoms of low self-esteem and social withdrawal. A literature review by the Norwegian Physiotherapist Association confirms the effectiveness of physical activity for improving depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems in children and young adults. You do not need to be a pro at a sport, workout every day of the week, or have a six-pack to feel the mental health benefits derived from physical activity, specifically self-esteem. Research has found that exercising and feeling an improvement in physical conditioning might be sufficient to enhance self-esteem. 

Furthermore, a meta-analysis on this topic concluded that physical activity makes our bodies more capable, and that reflects on our body image, or how we see ourselves, not for the goal of aesthetics but in terms of strength, flexibility, coordination, and muscle tone (Sani et al.2016). Body image, how we think about ourselves, and our capacities after exercising will reflect better self-esteem and ultimately a life with better relationships.  

Exercise is more about creating a habit than loving to exercise (although it definitely helps if you find something about it to love!). If you find yourself lacking self-esteem or in a funk, try exercising. I would begin by picking some activity you are interested in and think you would enjoy. Signing up for a marathon is only possible by first walking and practicing how to run. Setting up small goals might help, such as scheduling a time of the day to practice physical activity twice a week and working to include more days into your routine. I can remember the first time I got a runner-high. The physical sensation is a fantastic experience, but the feeling you get after seeing what you can accomplish after a time of practice is better. So, the next time that a friend invites you for a trip to the gym or a walk, appreciate them. They are looking out for your mental health. 


Ekeland, E., Heian, F., & Hagen, K. (2005). Can exercise improve self esteem in children and young people? A systematic review of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(11), 792–798. to an external site.

Sani, S. H. Z., Fathirezaie, Z., Brand, S., Pühse, U., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., Gerber, M., & Talepasand, S. (2016). Physical activity and self-esteem: testing direct and indirect relationships associated with psychological and physical mechanisms. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Volume 12, 2612625. to an external site.