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Movement: moving for our mental health

Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 runs from 13th to 19th May this year. The theme set by the Mental Health Foundation is ‘Movement: moving more for our mental health’. The focus is on trying to help us find movement and exercise in our daily routines and to feel the mental health benefits from doing so.

In the bustle of everyday life, we can easily overlook the powerful connection between physical activity and mental wellbeing. Yet, research consistently shows that exercise is more than just feeling better about how we look – it’s a gamechanger for our minds too.

In this blog, we’ll explore the many benefits to movement on our mental health and offer some simple ways we can all incorporate more movement in our day-to-day lives.

The science behind exercise and mental health

Here’s the science: when you engage in physical activity, your body releases endorphins – those feel-good hormones that act as natural painkillers and mood enhancers.

Additionally, exercise increases the production of serotonin and dopamine – crucial for regulating mood, sleep, and stress. Exercise also increases dopamine receptors, meaning that even when you’re not exercising, your capacity to experience joy is increased.

Did you know that studies have shown that regular exercise can be as effective as medication in treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety?

How much benefit is there to exercise?

Statistics that speak volumes

According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, with more than 264 million people affected. Research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry has found that just one hour of exercise per week can significantly reduce the risk of depression.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that doing 150 minutes of varied exercise a week significantly reduces depression, anxiety, and psychological distress.

And even more benefits…

Physical activity has a ripple effect on various aspects of our lives. It improves our sleep, boosts our self-esteem, enhances cognitive function, reduces the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, and improves our cardiovascular system and bone health.

It can also help our social interactions with others and gives us a sense of accomplishment – both of which are vital for our overall wellbeing.

Simple ways to move more:

  1. Start small: If you’re new to exercise, start with small bursts of activity. Have a 10-minute walk around the neighbourhood, do a quick yoga session at home, dance around the living room to your favourite music. Whatever it is, the key is to find activities that you enjoy and can easily fit into your routine.
  2. Set realistic goals: Whether you want to increase your steps to 5,000 a day or exercise for the recommended 150 minutes per week, set goals that you can actually achieve. Aim too high, and you’ll more than likely give up before you reach your goals. Remember, progress is progress, no matter how small.
  3. Mix it up: Try lots of different activities to keep things interesting and prevent boredom. Ask your friends what they like to do and ask to tag along – it may be that you’ll find something new that you love and doing it with someone else will also give you a boost.
  4. Listen to your body: Above all, listen to your body and move each day in a way that is in tune with you. If you’re feeling tired or sore, opt for something gentler like simple stretching or yoga. Keep hydrated and fuel your body with nourishing food.

Move more for your mental health

Mental Health Week 2024 is encouraging all of us to make exercise a priority. Making movement, no matter how small, part of your daily routine is important for maintaining good mental health and overall wellbeing. Whether you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, or low mood, or simply looking for ways to boost your mood and energy, incorporating regular movement into your life can make a world of difference.

What will you try this Mental Health Week?

Would you like to know more about how to improve your mental health? Our consultant psychologist, Dr Sian Thrasher, offers a free 15-minute telephone consultation specifically for you to discuss CBT and treatment options.

References

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2019). Running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/running-for-15-minutes-a-day-or-walking-for-an-hour-reduces-the-risk-of-major-depression/

Mammen, G., & Faulkner, G. (2013). Physical activity and the prevention of depression: A systematic review of prospective studies. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 45(5), 649–657. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2013.08.001

Robertson CL, Ishibashi K, Chudzynski J, Mooney LJ, Rawson RA, Dolezal BA, Cooper CB, Brown AK, Mandelkern MA, London ED. Effect of Exercise Training on Striatal Dopamine D2/D3 Receptors in Methamphetamine Users during Behavioral Treatment. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016 May;41(6):1629-36. doi: 10.1038/npp.2015.331. Epub 2015 Oct 27. PMID: 26503310; PMCID: PMC4832026.

Singh B, Olds T, Curtis R, et al. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety and distress: an overview of systematic reviews British Journal of Sports Medicine 2023;57:1203-1209. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2022-106195

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Depression. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression

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