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04th July 2013

Let’s Get Physical

The theme of this year’s mental health awareness week was the importance of physical exercise in promoting mental health and wellbeing. The theme fits in with something I have written about previously in relation to smoking and mental health.

There’s a whole number of fairly obvious reasons why physical and mental well-being should be linked.

  • Fresh air and exercise can make you feel good
  • Activities like walking, swimming and golf can give people the opportunity to socialise
  • Feeling fit can promote self-esteem
  • When you feel better mentally, you are more motivated to stay fit
  • Getting fitter is something people can do to promote their own recovery, and feel they are in control
  • A programme of activities, even if it is just a short walk once a week, can give some structure to someone’s life
  • Using physical activity, with a view to getting mentally better, need not involve any stigma

It is sometimes easier to say, ‘I’m going to get fitter’, than actually do it! We all know that. So for someone who lacks self-esteem, who is feeling low in mood, how do you encourage motivation to give it a go? There’s a lot of material in the QCS care home admission polices that guide staff to look with the service user at all of the activities and interests that they’ve ever had, not just are doing now, and see if these interests can be revived to link with the persons’ current needs to produce a care plan. In this way a care plan isn’t so much about having things done for someone, but getting the person involved in working towards improving their own physical and mental well-being. There's been a lot of work done in the last 10 years or so by mental health organisations in ‘bridge building’ that is linking service users with activities going on in the local community. Earlier this year, Carlisle United offered football taster sessions for mental health service users. GPs are referring more and more people with depression for physical exercise opportunities.

The Government’s current mental health strategy ‘No Health without Mental Health’ was influenced by an earlier report titled ‘Mental Capital and Wellbeing’ which identified a mental health equivalent of five fruit and vegetables a day. These were:

1. Connect

2. Be active

3. Take notice

4. Keep learning

5. Give

You can do all of those by joining in with activities in your area! So let’s not just think about physical exercise improving mental well-being as a campaign just for mental health awareness week, let’s make it a campaign for the whole year round.


Further reading:

Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project (2008) Final Project report. The Government Office for Science, London.

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