Benefits and barriers to movement

We often hear that exercise is beneficial for our mental health, but exercise isn’t always easy. For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (13 – 19 May 2024) we wanted to not only explore the numerous benefits of physical activity but to also understand the barriers that can be encountered.


The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, as set by the Mental Health Foundation, is “Movement: moving for our mental health.” But what do we mean by movement? We often think that only certain kinds of exercise, such as running and high-intensity workouts, are valid for improving our physical and mental health. And, while these are still valid, they are often intimidating for newcomers. They may even feel impossible if we aren’t used to making exercise a part of our routines. Instead, it can help to look at ways to incorporate movement in our everyday routines.

Benefits to movement

Science shows that any kind of movement can cause a positive shift in our mental wellbeing, including light movement and “meditative movement” — that is, movement that incorporates mindfulness or meditation. Light movement not only helps alleviate symptoms of poor mental health, but also helps to reduce the risk. Read on to discover why movement matters.

The benefits of movement on a person’s wellbeing and mental health have been greatly researched. Below are a list of recent studies relating to mental health:

  • Journal of Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews found that low to moderately intense exercise, such as gardening and walking, cuts the risk of depression by 23%, anxiety by 26%, and psychosis or schizophrenia by 27%.
  • Schuch and Vancampfort  found that physical activity and exercise can prevent depression and anxiety disorders.
  • A Harvard study saw a 26% decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in physical activity such as replacing 15 minutes of sitting with 15 minutes of running, or one hour of sitting with one hour of moderate activity like brisk walking.
  • Another Harvard study affirmed that moving your body decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious. More specifically looking into how the heart rate changes brain chemistry, increasing the availability of important anti-anxiety neurochemicals.
  • John W Brick Foundation reviewed over 1,000 studies and found almost 90% positive association between physical activity and mental health. General physical activity, cardiovascular/ aerobic exercise and yoga were the top three linked to mental health benefits.
  • British Journal of Sports Medicine published a study confirming physical activity is highly beneficial for improving symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress.
  • The Lancet reported that individuals who exercised had 43% fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise. All exercise types were associated with fewer days of poor mental health.

“How I look after myself in a nutshell - I bring it back to what gives me joy.

Movement and music are really powerful. I often put on music and have a dance around the house as a pick me up.

Giving yourself positive affirmations is also important as is having a support network of friends that lift your spirits.”

– Michelle Griffith-Robinson - Olympian and Mental Health UK's trustee

Barriers to movement

We often encounter barriers to being physically active, such as location, disability, finances, or lacking energy. When you live with depression, it can feel overwhelming to accomplish everyday tasks, let alone those requiring physical movement. It’s important to remember, though, that you are not alone. Everyone will encounter barriers to being physically active. However, if we work to overcome them, the benefits far outweigh the discomfort we might feel beforehand.

Read more about the barriers to movement.

Ready to move your way?

This year's Mental Health Awareness Week we want to
encourage people to find a way to move their body
and mind in every day activities.

Get involved

Your donation will make the difference

Just £10 could help pay for a call to our advice and information line, supporting someone living with mental illness who may be feeling in distress during this time.

Donate today