The benefits of moving more, more often
Find out more about how being physically active can benefit your mental health and wellbeing.
Growing up I was always involved in sport being a competitive swimmer throughout high school and playing volleyball during my time at University. Highlights for me from these were competing at the Scotland National Open Swimming Championships and representing Scotland under 20's for Volleyball along with back to back third place finishes at British University and College Sport finals.
During my mid twenties I began to really struggle with my mental health which led to me becoming very sedentary and regularly overeating. This resulted in me steadily gaining weight up to a peak of 155kg during the summer of 2021 which at 6ft 1 inch gave me a BMI of roughly 45. Realising I desperately needed to make a change I began to work on my fitness again, initially with short walks and slowly building from there. A few months in I got a gym membership and regularly did sessions on standard exercise bikes in order to push myself harder.
Making small changes to your daily life, from leaving the car at home for short journeys or getting off the bus a stop earlier, to climbing the stairs rather than taking the lift can all help to boost your mood. The evidence is clear, exercise reduces the likelihood of depression and also maintains mental health as we age. The British University & College Sport (BUCS) Active Students Survey 2019-20 also showed that active students had higher wellbeing, inclusion and perceptions of attainment and employability compared to inactive students.
The benefits of being physically active for mental health and wellbeing - what the experts say...
Being active has a huge potential to enhance our wellbeing. Even a short burst of 10 minutes brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood.
Ekkekakis, P., Hall, E.E., Van Landuyt, L.M. & Petruzzello, S. (2000). Walking in (affective) circles: Can short walks enhance affect? Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 23 (3), 245–275
Participation in regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress and anxiety.
Alfermann, D. & Stoll, O. (2000). Effects of Physical Exercise on Self-Concept and Wellbeing. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 31, 47–65.
Salmon, P. (2001). Effects of Physical Activity on Anxiety, Depression, and Sensitivity to Stress: A Unifying Theory. Clinical Psychology Review, 21 (1), 33–61.
Physical activity has been shown to have a positive influence on our self-esteem and self-worth. This relationship has been found in children, adolescents, young adults, adults and older people, and across both males and females.
Lindwall, M. & Aşçı, F.H. (2014). Physical Activity and Self-Esteem. In: A. Clow & S. Edmunds (eds.). Physical activity and mental health. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Physical activity can reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild symptoms and may also be helpful for treating clinical anxiety. Physical activity is available to all, has few costs attached, and is an empowering approach that can support self-management.
Conn, V.S. (2010). Anxiety outcomes after physical activity interventions: meta-analysis findings. Nursing Research, 59 (3), 224–231.
Asmundson, G.J.G., Fetzner, M.G., DeBoer, L.B., Powers, M.B., Otto, M.W. & Smits, J.A.J. (2013). Let’s get physical: a contemporary review of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for anxiety and its disorders. Depression and Anxiety, 30 (4), 362–373.
Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. Research on employed adults has found that highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active.
 Kouvonen, A., Kivimaki, M., Elovainio, M., Virtanen, M., Linna, A. & Vehtera, J. (2005). Job strain and leisure-time physical activity in female and male public sector employees. Preventative Medicine, 41 (2), 532–539.