Mental health and physical health

Doing things that help us to relax, make us feel happy or calm such as exercise, eating well and sleep are a normal part of taking care of ourselves and they contribute towards your mental health. Mental health is just as important as physical health and they influence each other.

People living with mental health problems have the same physical health needs as everybody else but are less likely to do any physical activity. This can be further impacted by the side-effects of medication which leaves some feeling tired and lethargic.

Did you know people who take part in regular physical activity have up to a 30% lower risk of depression? Exercise is proven to have a hugely positive impact on the quality of life of people affected by mental health problems including:

  • Improving our mood
  • Reducing symptoms of stress
  • Reduced anger
  • Alleviating anxiety
  • Slowing cognitive decline

How does physical activity improve my health?

There are lots of benefits to taking part in physical exercise. Not only will it help your mental health, but your physical health will improve too. Here are just some of the ways that taking part in physical activity can improve your health:

  • Make us fitter
  • Help us to manage your weight
  • Build us to strength and muscle
  • Keep your joints healthy
  • Make you feel good about yourself
  • Help us to prevent physical health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, strokes, and some cancers

How does physical activity affect my mental health?

Exercise is key for good mental health. When we exercise our bodies release a natural hormone called ‘endorphins’, these make you feel good and improve your mood.

But there are lots of other ways exercise helps with our mental health such as: better concentration, better sleep and feeling more motivated. Keeping a routine can also be really good for our wellbeing and making exercise part of that weekly routine is a great idea to boost our wellbeing.

What counts as physical activity?

Any activity is better than none. You don’t have to start lifting weights in the gym or running to feel fit and healthy. NHS guidelines suggest doing 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. You can break this up into 5 x 30-minute sessions, or 10 x 15-minute sessions. Moderate activity will raise your heart rate and break you into a sweat. But you should not be so breathless that you can’t talk.

If you don’t do any activity at the moment, you can work up to doing 150 minutes. Aim for 1 hour per week to begin with, and every few weeks add an extra hour. You can break it down into 10-15 minute blocks if you prefer.

You can try:

  • Walking

    You could search for a local walking group or try Active 10

  • Cycling

    You could search for your local Wheels for Wellbeing centre

  • Swimming

  • Jogging

    You could try Couch to 5k or your local ParkRun

  • Tennis

    You could find a local cardio tennis session

  • Walking football

    You can search for a local walking football group

  • Yoga

    There are plenty of free online videos and apps you can follow along to

If you have not done any exercise for some time or have other health problems, you could discuss increasing your physical activity with your GP.

For more tips and ideas about fitness and mental health, watch this video by fitness trainer Harry Thomas.

Head to our partner, Rethink Mental Illness’ information page on physical activity and mental health to find out more.