Moving More for our Mental Health

16/05/2024

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme is “Moving more for our mental health.” Being active can have substantial benefits on our mental health as well as our physical health.

A poll by UKActive highlighted that of all participants they interviewed, 54% found mental health benefits as their main motivation for exercise. Although exercise is commonly associated and known to improve our physical health, considering the benefits it also has on our mental health is important.

So statistics highlight there is a connection between exercise and positive mental health, but let’s take a look at the different ways regular exercise benefits our mental health.

How does exercise help mental health?

Mental health exercise benefits (3)

 

Releases endorphins

Exercise has a strong link to releasing our endorphins. Endorphins are released by our body increasing positive feelings of well-being. Exercise works to release endorphins as it reduces the level of the body’s stress hormones. When you are doing pleasurable things such as exercise, it allows the brain to release endorphins. Research suggests that endorphins are released after at least 30 minutes of exercise, so the longer you can make a workout, the better you will feel in yourself.

 

Improves confidence and self-esteem

We all know that sticking to exercise for a long time (along with a healthy and balanced diet) can often change the way we look in our bodies. Whether the goal is to lose weight, tone our bodies or gain more muscle, it’s understandable that these can contribute to improved confidence and self-esteem, especially if that’s one of the motivations for your exercise plan. Exercise can also improve our confidence and self-esteem by:

  • Introducing a good routine, such as improving eating habits and sleep pattern
  • Gaining strength, helping us to feel mentally stronger
  • Improved brain power, as we feel more focused and alert during daily tasks

All of these benefits can contribute to our overall confidence and self-esteem in the rest of our everyday lives.

 

Improves Sleep

Exercise and physical activity can help improve our sleep pattern as we exert more energy throughout exercise, which can mean we feel more tired when we go to bed. Exercise can also help to reduce stress and help us to feel relaxed – when we have a clearer mind, we tend to sleep better. Exercise can help to reduce sleep onset or reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. It can also help to reduce the amount of daytime sleepiness in some people, which will help to improve sleep schedules overall.

 

Provides sense of purpose

Exercise and physical activity can be a great way to provide a sense of purpose in your life. For example, joining the gym or going for a run or walk can become part of your routine and give you something to look forward to. It can also become a passion and an opportunity to create new goals. Additionally, joining sports clubs and groups can also provide a great sense of purpose, especially when working within a team or in a competitive setting, it can offer motivation and work wonders for the mind.

Man on a run on a path in green area

 

Reduces isolation

If you take up exercise or physical activity that involves being around other people, it can be a great way to reduce isolation. If you opt for joining a local sports club, you can meet new people and potentially make new friends, which can help with feelings of isolation. If you opt for exercising in a gym or swimming, this is still a great way to reduce feelings of isolation as other like-minded people will be around, which can also help staying motivated and feeling positive.

 

Next we look at some of the different types of exercises and how they can have a positive impact on our mental health.

 

Types of exercise and their mental health benefits

Walking and Running

Walking and running can be great exercises with mental and physical health benefits. Even a slow, short walk can help to improve our mental health and mental well-being. Walks in nature can be great for boosting a sense of peace, calmness, and relaxation. Also keeping track of your walks and runs using dedicated tracking apps can be a great way to improve sense of purpose and motivation, which can help with overall health. Read more in our walking for mental health blog.

 

Swimming

Swimming can be great for our mental health and can also be a low impact way to release some endorphins and boost our moods. Swimming can reduce stress thanks to its focus on breathing and movements. The physical exertion involved in swimming helps in the release of tension accumulated in the muscles, further aiding in stress reduction. Swimming can also help our mental health by providing opportunity for mindfulness, as well as social opportunities as you are surrounded by like-minded people, and can even join swimming groups or clubs. Check out our blog for more mental health benefits of swimming.

person swimming lanes in a large indoor pool

Sports Clubs

Joining a sports club, such as a football club, rugby club or rowing club can be a great way to get physical activity and be sociable. Along with all the other benefits exercise can have on our mental health, sports clubs also offer a real sense of belonging. Exercising in a group setting has also been suggested to be better for the release of endorphins, as it can motivate us to work harder and also generally being in groups of people can be a positive experience.

 

Golf

Golf can be a great sport for mental health support, as golf has been known to improve confidence and self-esteem. As you begin to get better at golf and improve your skill it will allow you to develop confidence and good feelings about yourself.

Golf can also be a social physical activity, especially as people begin to get older and social interaction becomes more important to reduce feelings of isolation. Golf courses are full of greenery and provides a good opportunity to spend time in nature! The benefits of being in nature include reducing stress and providing relaxation, which has a knock on effect on mental health. Being outdoors can also mean more Vitamin D! This can have multiple benefits for our physical and mental health, which is another way to reduce stress.

 

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Gym

The gym has different benefits to exercising outside in greenery and nature, opting for a gym workout has many benefits on mental health. This includes: being around like-minded people which can be motivating, having a place to go can also help to motivate and take away stresses from daily life. The act of focusing on exercises and routines can serve as a meditative practice, allowing individuals a much-needed break from the daily hustle and bustle of their lives and stresses.

The gym isn't merely a place to sweat; it's also a community hub, where you can join group classes or simply strike up a conversation with a fellow gym-goer. These social interactions, which can foster friendships and create a sense of belonging, can be crucial for mental well-being, especially for those of us without a solid support system, or for groups who tend to experience loneliness more, such as the elderly. 

 

Yoga

Yoga is a much more relaxing and calmer exercise than some of the others we’ve looked into, but can have fantastic benefits on our mental health. Yoga is great for meditation and mindfulness, relaxing the mind and taking away stresses.

Some of the benefits include relieving depression, reducing stress, easing anxiety and improved sleep. Yoga can also be a great social activity and also help to promote other healthy habits in other aspects of life.

In conclusion, exercising regularly can be a great way to prioritise our mental health and well-being. If you are struggling with mental health, exercise alone isn’t a cure. Remember you’re never alone and various resources and help are always available.

Resources and support

Remember you’re not alone if you feel like this and various resources and help are available if needed.

  • Mind offer a wide range of information and support for mental health, including information on helplines, support and services and medication and therapies.
  • The NHS offers mental well-being audio guides, which help to boost moods. 
  • Bupa offers quick round-the-clock access to mental health support via the Digital GP app. A specialist mental health team is also available through Bupa.
  • AXA support is available around the clock for members with AXA’s 24/7 Health at Hand service. Counsellors are just a phone call away.
  • The Exeter provides access to trained specialists who can evaluate and treat various mental health conditions. They also offer emotional and behavioural support. Access to lifestyle coaching, stress management, improving sleep and motivation to exercise is available.
  • Aviva offer support through their Digital GP, which gives customers unlimited access around the clock to GP video consultations. They also offer a 24-hour Stress Counselling helpline, seven days a week.

 

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