What is mental health?

Good mental health means being generally able to think, feel and react in the ways that you need and want to live your life. If you go through a period of poor mental health, you might find the ways you're frequently thinking, feeling or reacting become difficult, or even impossible, to cope with.

Mental health problems affect around 1 in 4 people. They range from common problems, such as depression and anxiety, to rarer problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Why is physical activity important for mental health?

Being active is excellent for your physical health, but there is also lots of evidence to show that it can also significantly help with your mental health too. There are many ways in which physical activity can improve your mental wellbeing, including:

  • Improved sleep – exercise can help you to feel more tired at the end of the day and can help with your sleep quality during the night
  • Happier moods – physical activity causes chemical changes in the brain and releases endorphins (feel-good hormones) that make you feel better in yourself and give you more energy
  • Stress and anxiety management – physical activity releases cortisol which helps us manage stress. Being physically active also gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy when you are feeling stressed
  • Better self-esteem – being more active can make you feel better about yourself as you take on new challenges and meet your goals
  • Reduced risk of depression – many studies have shown that doing regular physical activity can reduce the likelihood of experiencing depression
  • Social support – doing exercise in a group, team or with others can help you make new friends and keep you motivated

How much physical activity should you be doing?

If you're looking to become more active to improve your mental health, you should aim to take part in the recommended amount of physical activity for your age group, as outlined in the UK Chief Medical Officer's Physical Activity Guidelines.

For adults aged 19 and over, the recommended amount is at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. Where possible, this should be a combination of cardiovascular, strength, flexibility and balance exercises. These could include:

  • Cardiovascular activities - brisk walking, cycling, swimming, dancing
  • Strength activities - resistance training, Yoga, Nordic Walking, carrying heavy shopping, heavy gardening
  • Balance/mobility - Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, body balance classes

It's important to remember that taking part in regular physical activity doesn't mean you have to run marathons or go to the gym every day. Keeping physically active is all about finding activities that you enjoy and making them part of your daily routine. There are lots of different ways that you can incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, including:

  • Try to break periods of sitting as often as possible
  • If you sit at a desk or screen all day, try some chair-based exercises
  • Do some gardening or housework
  • Take regular breaks at work to stand up and move around e.g. get a glass of water
  • Walk part of your journey to work if you can
  • When you go to the work or the shops, try parking at a further car parking space

If you would like more information about how physical activity can help with your mental health, visit the Mind website.

Suffolk How Are You?

Making better lifestyle choices can have a big impact on your mental health. Suffolk How Are You is a local campaign ran by Public Health Suffolk which provides tips, tools and advice to help you make small changes so you feel better and healthier, every day. Find out more about the Suffolk How Are You campaign here.

For more information about mental health, follow the links below: