Let’s Get Physical: Mental Health Awareness Week

Let's Get Physical poster for Mental Health Awareness Week 2013

Yesterday was one of those days that left me feeling cranky and frazzled. A computer that was misbehaving (guaranteed to raise my stress levels through the roof), difficulty finding parking, which meant I was late for an appointment, and then a long wait at the hospital for a blood test.

By the time I got to the gym in the evening I was ready to scream. One hour later, I walked out of there with a smile on my face, calmer and happier, ready to forget about the stresses of the day and enjoy my evening.

As someone who has suffered from depression on and off for most of my life I know that the times when I’ve been fit and active have been some of the happiest times of my life. Walking the South Downs Way last year was definitely the highlight of my year.

But when I’ve been unable to exercise properly, due to injury or illness, my energy levels have plummeted, lethargy has set in and depression soon follows in its place.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2013

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (13 – 19 May) here in the UK. At a time when more people than ever are suffering from stress, anxiety and depression because of the UK recession, it’s a sobering reminder that mental health issues can affect anyone given the right circumstances.

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is physical activity and exercise and the positive impact they have on mental health and wellbeing.

Positive Impact of Physical Activity and Exercise

Research has shown that physical exercise:

  • Has a positive impact on mood and helps to relieve stress – physically fit individuals have a reduced stress response
  • Enhances self-esteem and lowers the risk of dementia in older people
  • Reduces the risk of depression and anxiety.

Lack of Exercise

Yet, despite these findings, a new report from the Mental Health Foundation found that some people would rather do housework and even go to a Justin Bieber concert than do physical activity.

The report found that:

  • Under 1/3 (28%) of people exercise less than once a month
  • 1/4 of British people don’t enjoy physical activity
  • 29% of people would rather do housework and 3% would even go to a Justin Bieber concert than exercise
  • Only 12% of people who take part in physical activity mainly do it to improve their general mental health and wellbeing
  • 37% of people don’t have time, 21% find it boring and 23% can’t be bothered to exercise more often than they currently do
  • 37% of people who exercise say the main reason why they do so is to improve their physical health.

Now, I’m not sure why they had to bring Justin Bieber into this, but the point is that people are not exercising enough and few people realise how beneficial physical activity can be to their mental health.

My guess is that people are more likely to resort to drink and drugs to ‘take the edge off’ stress and anxiety than go for a run.

And when it comes to treatment for depression most people head to their GP for a prescription of anti-depressants and, if they’re lucky, a referral to a therapist, rather than joining a gym.

Activity and Improved Mental Health and Wellbeing

Research shows that even small increases in levels of activity can improve people’s wellbeing and mental health.

The Department of Health recommends that adults aim to be active daily and complete 2½ hours of moderate intensity activity over a week or 30 minutes five times a week (DoH, 2011).

Instead of joining a gym you could take a walk in the park, go for a swim, or do a bit of housework or gardening. Just a little something every day.

It doesn’t take much to be physically active and it doesn’t have to cost anything either. And it will make you feel better. I can vouch for that.

Has exercise helped you in any way? If so, I’d love to know how. Please share your experience by leaving a comment below.

Further Reading:

You can find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week at the Mental Health Foundation website and download their Let’s Get Physical booklet which will tell you more about the benefits of physical activity for your mental health.

Image: Thanks to the Mental Health Foundation website.

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