How are physical activity and mental health connected?

Woman stands on football pitch, smiling with her arms crossed
Woman stands on football pitch, smiling with her arms crossed

There are many studies which have shown that doing physical activity can improve mental health. For example, it can help with:

  • better sleep by making you feel more tired at the end of the day
  • happier moods – physical activity releases feel-good hormones that make you feel better in yourself and give you more energy
  • managing stress, anxiety or intrusive and racing thoughts – doing something physical releases cortisol which helps us manage stress. Being physically active also gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy for difficult times

“I’ve always found that exercise is the one thing that gets me well again, with depression, it’s invaluable. It makes me feel great, just healthy and active. I don’t feel as tired or lethargic when I exercise and it makes me happy and content in myself”

  • better self esteem – being more active can make you feel better about yourself as you improve and meet your goals
  • reducing the risk of depression– studies have shown that doing regular physical activity can reduce the likelihood of experiencing a period of depression
  • connecting with people – doing group or team activities can help you meet new and like-minded people, and make new friends.

But physical activity isn’t always helpful for everyone’s mental health. You may find that it is helpful at some times and not others, or just that it doesn’t work for you. For some people, physical activity can start to have a negative impact on their mental health, for example, if you have an eating problem.

Activities at home

  • Try to sit less – if you spend lots of time sitting down, try to get up and move around a bit every hour. If you’re worried you might forget, you could set an alarm to remind yourself.
  • Chair-based exercises – if you have mobility problems, a physical condition, or find it difficult spending time out of a chair, the NHS website has activity routines you can try while sitting down.
  • Do exercises or stretches at home – the NHS website has lots of different routines, or you could try an exercise CD or DVD.
  • Do an online activity programme – there are lots of free, online exercise regimes designed for you to try at home, including everything from chair-based exercises to yoga and cardio workouts.

Activities out and about

  • Walk a bit more – to work, to the shops, or to the end of the road and back.
  • Play a game in the park – for example, frisbee, tag or a game of catch.
  • Try a new sport, or join a team, group or exercise class – the Be Inspired website has lots of information about what different sports and activities are like, and how to get involved.
  • Volunteer outdoors – check out our current volunteering opportunities
  • Find your local leisure centre – leisure centres have a range of sports facilities, such as badminton and squash courts, and run exercise classes and groups, such as Zumba and aerobics. They often feel more inclusive than private gyms, and many have discount schemes and childcare facilities. Check your local council website to find your nearest centre.
  • Try a dance class – from Zumba to swing, ballroom or dancercise, the NHS website has a directory of classes in your local area.
  • Walking or running groups – Ramblers and Run Together all organise free, inclusive local groups with trained volunteers.

Why not try taking on a challenge event for BLG Mind? Find out more about the upcoming The Big Half on the 3rd September.