We use necessary cookies that allow our site to work. We also set optional cookies that help us improve our website. For more information about the types of cookies we use, visit our Cookies policy.

Cookie settings
yoga class.jpg
13 May 2024

8 ways that movement benefits your mind - plus tips to get started

It’s well known that physical exercise is vital for our physical health, but did you know about the positive impact it can also have on our mental health and wellbeing?

  1. Movement encourages the release of endorphins, our brain’s feel good hormones. Endorphins boost mood and reduce feelings of hopelessness, which can be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression.

  2. Another benefit of endorphins are their calming qualities, which mean they can help reduce the muscle tension and tightness associated with stress and anxiety.

  3. Exercise also boosts our brain’s dopamine levels, improving concentration, attention and motivation.

  4. It can distract from negative thoughts and feelings, as well as providing the opportunity to try new experiences and meet new people.

  5. Exercise can reduce loneliness by helping you to feel connected to others and to places. For example, going out for walks can lead to feeling connected to nature and your community, as well as leading to social interactions. Team exercises offer advantages like motivation and support from team members, as well as the chance to socialise and form new friendships.

  6. The combination of enhanced mood and a reduction in stress promotes better sleep, which protects us against low mood, anxiety, poor decision making and risk-taking behaviour.

  7. Regular physical exercise can help you feel stronger and better about yourself, fostering a sense of self-worth and giving you a sense of purpose. It can also give you a well deserved sense of achievement as you build a new habit, see improvements in your ability or meet your goals.

  8. Regular exercise can reduce your risk of cognitive decline (symptoms of which include illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease) by stimulating the growth of new brain cells, which improves memory and problem solving skills.

Tips for starting to exercise for your mental health

If you are a beginner, returning to exercise after a period of inactivity or leading a very busy life, incorporating exercise into your schedule can be quite daunting, especially if you are struggling with your mental health. These tips can help you get started.

Build up slowly. Doing too much too soon could risk injury, so start by setting achievable goals and build from there.

Incorporate physical activity into your daily life. Finding opportunities to build movement into your every day can be a great place to start, especially if you struggle with time. For example, you might take the stairs instead of the lift, or walk short distances instead of taking the car. This also helps to make exercise cost effective and helps you to get outside more often.

Choose the right time to exercise. If you tend to be tired in the mornings, it might make sense to schedule exercise for later in the day. Others might find that being physically active later in the day makes it hard to fall asleep at night. Finding what works for you to make movement easier to stick with. Similarly…

Choose activities you enjoy. This is important in finding motivation. Think about whether you prefer exercising alone or in groups, and what sort of movement makes you feel good. Finding an activity that makes you feel happy and comfortable means you’re more likely to do it regularly and enjoy the benefits.

Don’t put pressure on yourself. It could take you some time to decide which physical exercises you like and how they work for you, so be patient and gentle with yourself.

You may find that sometimes you’re unable to be as physically active as you might like to be, especially if you are struggling with your mental or physical health. It’s ok to take a break and try again when you are feeling better or stronger, or to adapt your movement to how you feel: sometimes a run can help to clear our head; other times we need to stretch and practice breathing exercises.

Sometimes physical exercise might not improve how you feel. This is not your fault - movement is only one aspect of keeping ourselves mentally healthy. Managing our mental health is layered and at times we may need more support. If you’re finding it hard to cope, please reach out for support. You can try sharing your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends and family or a GP. If you would prefer to speak to someone anonymously, reach out to Shout for free and confidential support by text message. Our trained volunteers are here to listen, 24/7.