Physical Activity and Mental Health

Your idea of exercise might be going for a brisk walk whist another’s may be taking part in a triathlon – no matter what your active lifestyle entails there can be no doubt that it all contributes to a healthier, happier self!

The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK has published an evidence-based position statement on The Role of Physical Activity and Sport in Mental Health. The main points of which are as follows:

  • Strong evidence exists showing a 20-30% reduction in depression in adults who participate in physical activity daily
  • There is clear evidence that physical activity reduces the risk of cognitive decline in adults and older adults, with a 20–30% risk reduction in developing dementia for adults participating in daily physical activity
  • Physical activity can increase self-esteem and reduce depression and anxiety in children
  • Physical activity can be used in treatment for depression, used as a standalone treatment or as a combination therapy with medication and/or psychological therapy
  • Physical activity is available to all, has few costs attached, and is an empowering approach that can support self-management

Being physically active contributes significantly to wellbeing in both adults and children. It not only improves established mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, but helps in their prevention, improves self-esteem, and reduces cognitive decline. Thus, the facilitation of physical activity is vital for all, promoting exercise whilst overcoming stigma and vulnerability.

For the average adult it is recommended that you take 150 minutes of exercise each week. With an average of only 65.5% of men and 54% of women meeting the recommended physical activity levels, it is important that more people are given the knowledge and support they need to make physical activity a healthy yet enjoyable part of life.

The Department of Health recommends that adults should aim to be active daily and complete 2.5 hours of moderate intensity activity over a week – the equivalent of 30 minutes five times a week. It may sound like a lot, but it isn’t as daunting as it first appears, and there are lots of suggestions to help you get started.

Once you have decided that you want to be more physically active, there are a few points worth thinking about. Apart from improving your physical and mental wellbeing, what else do you want to get out of being active?

Ask yourself whether you’d prefer being indoors or out, doing a group or individual activity, or trying a new sport. If you’re put off by sporty exercises, or feel uninspired at the thought of limiting yourself to just one activity, think outside the box and remember that going on a walk, doing housework, and gardening are all physical activities. Also, would you rather go it alone or do an activity with a friend? Social support is a great motivator, and sharing your experiences, goals and achievements will help you to keep focus and enthusiasm.

Whether you’re already reaping the benefits of physical activity or new to it, you can be confident it is a positive contributor to your mental health & wellbeing.

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