Increasing physical activity is proven to have many mental and physical health benefits and relieve stress.

This might not be joining a gym or going for a run! Small efforts such as a short walk around the block or some gentle yoga at home can make a big difference. Any activity that involves moving more and sitting down less can be helpful, even if it is five minutes of cleaning!

More physical activity can also help us sleep better, which is hugely beneficial to our health. Furthermore, exercise helps release ‘happy hormones’ that make us feel better and reduces the effects of stress. Evidence shows that regular physical activity reduces the chance of experiencing depression and has additional benefits of increased self-esteem and possibly connecting with others more.

It can be challenging to get going with increased physical activity, so start slowly and ensure that you don’t put too much pressure on yourself!

Emotional and mental health benefits of exercise

Higher self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful. By meeting even small exercise goals, you’ll feel a sense of achievement.

Better sleep. Even short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns. If you prefer to exercise at night, relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.

More energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise a day, and increase your workout as you feel more energised.

Sharper memory. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.

Stronger resilience. When faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, exercise can help you cope in a healthy way. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress.

The ‘Pressure Pot’

Our Fundamental Wellbeing training courses teach a module called the ‘Pressure Pot’. 

Picture this: your typical workday. You’re racing against the clock, juggling tasks like a pro, and dodging emails like an Olympic athlete. Sound familiar? But beneath the surface, there’s a pressure pot brewing, collecting stressors like souvenirs from a hectic life.

But here’s the thing about pressure pots—they come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us carry larger pots, perhaps due to past experiences or current vulnerabilities. These pots, if left unchecked, can reach boiling point faster than we realise. Now, imagine someone navigating through this daily grind. They have their own set of tools to manage the pressure, but movement hasn’t made its way into their toolkit just yet.

Enter our hero of the story. After a long day, their idea of relaxation involves sinking into the sofa with a glass of wine and the remote. It’s cozy, sure, and sometimes just the ticket, but it’s missing something vital—movement. You see, we often forget that our bodies and minds are besties, not distant cousins. So, why not invite movement to the party?

Here’s where the science comes in, illuminating the profound impact of movement on our mental wellbeing. Brain scans reveal a fascinating truth: exercise not only tones our muscles but also nurtures the growth of new brain cells. By embracing movement, we not only strengthen our bodies but also fortify our minds against the corrosive effects of stress.

So, our hero decides to spice things up a bit. Morning stretches, lunchtime walks, and impromptu dance sessions become their new jam.

Yet, it’s not just our habits that need a makeover; it’s our perceptions too. In a world inundated with diet culture and fitness fads, the true essence of movement often gets lost in translation. We reduce it to a means to an end, a tool for sculpting the perfect physique, rather than honoring its role as a cornerstone of mental wellbeing. If only we were taught from a young age that movement is not just about looking good, but feeling good—mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Imagine if we learned this as kids—how different would our relationship with movement be? So, let’s flip the script. Let’s make movement the hero of our story—the secret sauce for a life filled with joy, resilience, and inner peace.

Overcoming mental health obstacles

So now you know that exercise will help you feel much better, taking that first step is still easier said than done. Exercise obstacles are very real—particularly when you’re also struggling with mental ill health.

Here are some common barriers and what you can do to get past them.

Feeling exhausted. When you’re tired or stressed, it feels like working out will just make it worse. But the truth is that physical activity is a powerful energiser. Studies show that regular exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels. If you are really feeling tired, promise yourself a 5-minute walk. Chances are you’ll be able to go five more minutes.

Feeling overwhelmed. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, the thought of adding another obligation can seem overwhelming. Working out just doesn’t seem doable. If you have children, managing childcare while you exercise can be a big hurdle. Just remember that physical activity helps us do everything else better. If you begin thinking of physical activity as a priority, you will soon find ways to fit small amounts in a busy schedule.

Feeling hopeless. Even if you’ve never done anything before, you can still workout. If you have no experience exercising, start slow with low-impact movement a few minutes each day, try a fitness video in the comfort of your own home, you will soon start to become more confident with it and want to try out your moves with a friend, and maybe a class! If the feelings of hopelessness are about more than starting exercise, then please reach out to talk to someone like The Samaritans.

Feeling bad about yourselfAre you your own worst critic? It’s time to try a new way of thinking about exercise. No matter what your weight, age or fitness level, there are others like you with the goals of getting fit, increasing happy hormones and socialising. Try surrounding yourself with people in your shoes. Take a class with people at a variety of fitness levels. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you feel stronger.


Five ways to get moving and feel better

Exercise guidelines and workouts to help improve your fitness and wellbeing from the NHS



Why are we talking about exercise for mental health?

Since 2001 the Mental Health Foundation has run an awareness week every May to highlight a specific theme for mental health. The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 is ‘Movement’ which will run from Monday 13th May to Sunday 19th May 2024. 

Need some advice?

Are you thinking about Mental Health training at your place of work? We have dedicated Mental Health Training Specialists to consult with you and your organisation on strategy, and implementing mental health training, including mental health first aid and all wellbeing-related policies.

Book a FREE consultation