Physical activity is really important for both body and mind

Research has shown that physical activity releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good - boosting your self-esteem, helping you concentrate as well as sleep, look, and feel better. Not bad for something we can quite easily do for free! As one example, a recent study* found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%.

Here are just some of the potential benefits of physical activity:

  • less tension, stress, and mental fatigue
  • a natural energy boost
  • improved sleep
  • a sense of achievement
  • focus in life and motivation
  • less anger or frustration
  • a healthy appetite
  • better social life
  • having fun
  • detoxifying the body
  • a well-deserved break from the hustle and bustle

Being active doesn’t have to mean taking out an expensive gym membership, jogging at 5 am or sporting spandex. There are so many ways to be active and they can all help to improve your mental health.

Tips to get physically active

Mind have created a great video that highlights 5 ways to get moving and feel better. Here are our five tips to get you moving:

1. The gym isn't for me

Lots of people associate exercise with going to the gym, weights, and machines but you can use your own body to work out. Yoga, Pilates, walking, or stretching needs only you! Youtube has a whole host of online fitness classes. Joe Wicks has become the nation's PE teacher - have a look at his youtube channel for inspiration.

2. Start small

Don't stress if overnight you don't get the motivation to run 10 miles a day. Start small - go out for a 20-minute walk every day. Government guidelines recommend everyone should do 30 mins exercise, every day. A quick walk counts as your exercise. If you’re less mobile - check out the chair exercise link at the bottom.

3. Plan less, do more

We’re quick to put pressure on ourselves and do exercise every day. For a lot of us, that isn't do-able straight away. Plan to exercise once a week, then maybe twice, and then maybe 3 times. Build up slowly.

4. Do it together

Plan to workout with someone - go for a socially distanced walk together or plan to exercise at the same time as someone so you keep each other motivated. Feeling accountable to someone motivates us more to complete a task.

5. Get the Kit

It sounds vain - but having a "uniform" for exercising helps get you into the mindset you are now working out. It's a physical switch and your brain will learn to associate those clothes with exercising. Putting it on gets you in the right headspace. Many fitness clothing sites are having sales because of Black Friday so have a look!

How active do I need to be?

There isn't a one size fits all as we are all different. Typically to benefit from physical activity it is suggested for adults (19-64 years), aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity five times a week.

For children and young people (5-18 years), a minimum of 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity is recommended.

It may sound like a lot, but it isn’t as daunting as it first appears. 'Moderate-intensity activity' means being energetic enough that you breathe a little heavier than normal, but aren’t out of breath and feel warmer, but don’t end up hot and sweaty.

Vigorous activity includes those that cause you to breathe much harder, your heart to beat rapidly, and makes engaging in conversation difficult. Some of these activities are running and sports (e.g. swimming, football).

You don’t have to jump in at the deep end. Build up slowly, at a pace that suits you. You might like to do 30 minutes per day, or you may prefer to split your time into more manageable sessions. It's entirely up to you! The point is to just get active and avoid long periods of inactivity.

Useful apps/websites

  • Self - A website run by professionals with advice on nutrition, mental health with loads of online workouts for all ages and abilities
  • 7-minute workout - A free app with lots of small achievable workouts based on science, simply set your goal (get fit, lose some weight, put on muscle) and the app will tell what workouts to do. Find on Google Play for Android and the App Store for iPhone
  • NHS - the NHS has a great page on chair exercises
  • YouTube Joe Wicks has quickly become the face to get us all active. YouTube is littered with free activities for all abilities
  • There is a number of activity Apps to motivate you to record your progress and beat your personal best. They include MapMyRun, Strava, FitBit, and RunKeeper.

* Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health