Exercise and Mental Health: Small Steps, Big Differences

All movement matters. Whether it’s walking up the stairs rather than cruising up in a lift, a lunchtime jog rather than a lunchtime slog, or morning yoga rather than yet-another-lie-in. Getting up, getting out and active is beneficial not just for our physical health, but for our mental health too.

More and more evidence is emerging that highlights the benefits of exercise for mental health and wellbeing. From reductions in stress, depression and anxiety, to improvements in confidence, mood and happiness - exercise can be seen as a medicine we should all be prescribed.

The Big Picture

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’.

One in four adults in the UK experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in a given year. In schools, an estimated five children in every classroom have a mental health problem. On top of this, the coronavirus pandemic has been termed a mental health emergency as populations worldwide struggle to deal with the impact of lockdowns and isolation. It is widely accepted that there is no ‘health’ without ‘mental health’, so ensuring children and adults have the support, advice and means to manage their mental health is more important than ever.

How can Exercise Help?

Exercise stimulates the brain and causes the release of endorphins into the bloodstream. These trigger positive feelings in the body, which is why exercise is often described as a mood-booster. Research has also shown that exercise leads to greater levels of self-esteem and self-control, improving the overall mental wellbeing of a person. These improvements in the vision of oneself and feelings of self-worth are important for all of us. This is closely linked to lower levels of general anxiety, and some evidence has even shown that exercise may reduce the frequency and severity of panic attacks.

A recent survey by King’s College London found that exercising for just 20-minutes a day can reduce the risk of developing depression by a third. Additionally, higher levels of physical activity were shown to be protective over future depression for both children and adults. The combination of mood-boosting endorphins, the escape of everyday stressors during exercise and the subconscious processing of emerging issues in the mind also help lower stress levels which are often linked to depression.

There are also several secondary benefits of exercise too, such as social engagement and building of friendships through group activities, online forums and fitness apps. This can have a knock-on effect of new and greater support networks which are vital for managing mental wellbeing.

Just 10 Minutes

You don’t need to exercise for hours to feel the benefits of exercise - just 10 minutes can have a powerful effect on mood and wellbeing.  Studies have shown that even short bursts of exercise lead to meaningful changes in the brain area related to emotional processing.

A simple 10-miniute walk can start to clear the mind and help you relax. Or, if you want to turn things up a gear, a quick HIIT session on Rugged’s CardioWall can help distract from daily stressors, get you moving and having fun.

This is extremely relevant for those leading busy lives and juggling work-life balance, as these small bouts of exercise can improve the short and long-term mental health of these individuals. For Rugged, this has always been one of our aims – make exercise simple, accessible and enjoyable for all.

Exercising on Mental Health Wards

Patients under care at a secure hospital are significantly less active on average than the general population, and this is seen as a huge area of concern for care providers. Increasing physical activity levels can improve these patient’s physical and mental health, enhance psychological wellbeing, reduce mortality and improve life expectancy. So for practitioners, finding means of exercise that are safe, enjoyable and accessible is of great importance.

Exercise has shown to be an extremely beneficial and available form of therapy for mental health, and often, just finding an exercise or activity that you enjoy is the first step towards big differences in mood and wellbeing.


by Lucy Manley







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