My Q Health | Physical Activity and Mental Health
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Physical Activity and Mental Health

Physical Activity and Mental Health

This leaflet is for anyone who wants to know:

  • how being active can make you feel better
  • how exercise can help depression
  • how active you need to be to feel better
  • how to get more active safely.


Exercise keeps our hearts and bodies healthy. But how?


We often talk about the mind and body as though they are completely separate – but they aren’t. The mind can’t function unless your body is working properly – but it also works the other way. The state of your mind affects your body.

So – if you feel low or anxious, you may do less and become less active – which can make you feel worse. You can get caught in a harmful cycle:

Why bother with exercise?

To work properly, your body needs regular exercise – and most of us feel good when we are active.


Until the last 100 years or so, you had to be quite active to just live your everyday life. Now, in modern Western societies, so much of what we used to do is done by machines. We drive cars, so we walk less, vacuum cleaners make cleaning easy, and washing is done by a machine. At work we may not even have to move around in the office – it’s enough to sit at the computer. It doesn’t help that modern high-energy foods make us put on too much weight – or that, (in the West at least), food has never been cheaper or easier to buy.


So how can you start to get more active, day to day? You may be turned off by the word ‘exercise’ because:


  • I’ve never done it
  • I wasn’t good at sports at school
  • I would feel silly
  • Other people would make fun of me
  • It won’t help unless it hurts – ‘No pain, no gain’
  • It’s sweaty and uncomfortable
  • I’m too tired
  • I would rather do something else
  • It’s expensive
  • I think it will make me feel worse
  • I don’t have anyone to do it with
  • I don’t know where, when or how to start.

But – it doesn’t have to be about running around a track or working out in a gym. It can just be about being more active each day – perhaps just walking more, or taking the stairs rather than the lift. If medical problems stop you from doing one thing, there may be others that you can do.


What happens if you don’t do very much?

Some people can get away with doing very little and live to a ripe old age – but most of us can’t. Broadly speaking, the less you do, the more likely you are to end up with:

  • low mood / depression
  • tension and worry.

If you keep active, you are:

  • less likely to be depressed, anxious or tense
  • more likely to feel good about yourself
  • more likely to concentrate and focus better
  • more likely to sleep better
  • more likely to cope with cravings and withdrawal symptoms if you try to give up a habit, such as smoking or alcohol
  • more likely to be able to keep mobile and independent as you get older
  • possibly less likely to have problems with memory and dementia.

So – don’t worry about not doing enough – get started by building a bit more physical activity into your daily life now. Even a small change can boost your morale, give you a sense of achievement and help you to feel better in yourself.

To see full publication, visit RC Psych (Royal College of Psychiatrists). \


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