The importance of physical activity

There is increasing research into the relationship between physical activity and mental health. Evidence shows that for adults at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week can improve mood and decrease anxiety and stress.

Image of footballer celebratingPhysical activity is also thought to have a role in preventing serious mental illness such as depression. One definition of mental health is that it is ‘a positive sense of wellbeing and of being able to cope with the pressures of life.’ Most of us experience changes in our moods from time to time and can have periods where we feel down or situations that make us anxious or stressed. Physical activity is for everyone regardless of age. At least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week is the recommended amount for adults. And the good news is, you don’t have to do it all at once. Activity can be built up throughout the day. For example, three short sessions of brisk walking for ten minutes are as good as one long walk. 

Physical activity releases endorphins into your blood stream. These are the body’s natural painkillers and are responsible for the pleasant ‘feel good’ factor often felt after being active.

Physical activity improves muscle and heart function, increases blood flow to the brain and increases the efficiency of brain chemicals. There is some evidence that being active can improve cognitive functioning in older people and reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease. 

Single bouts of activity and exercise training reduce anxiety and improve reaction to stress and the quality and length of sleep. Exercise has also been shown to improve aspects of mental functioning such as planning, short-term memory and decision making.

Physical activity has psychological benefits too. It can:

  • improve self-esteem
  • give you a sense of control over your life
  • promote a sense of positive achievement
  • help with weight control
  • provide opportunities for socialising and making new friends.

All forms of physical activity rate highly when it comes to promoting good health and mental wellbeing.

"Fitness can have different meanings for different persons"

There is a huge range of things you can do including: 

  • walking
  • jogging
  • swimming
  • tennis
  • dancing
  • yoga
  • aerobics
  • weight training
  • playing team sports such as soccer, netball, badminton and touch football.

Day-to-day activities such as household chores, walking the dog, playing with the kids and taking the stairs at work instead of the lift are also good for your health. Any activity that gets you moving physically, improves strength or extends your range of movement is likely to increase your ‘feel good’ factor. So get moving and improve your health and well being.