Mental Health Awareness Week

1 May, 2013
Mental Health Awareness Week

For one week each May, the Mental Health Foundation campaign’s around a specific theme for Mental Health Awareness Week.   The theme for this year’s campaign, which runs from 13-19 May 2013, will be physical activity and exercise, highlighting the impact they have on mental health and wellbeing.   I have been asked to be a media spokesperson for the week, as I understand the importance of the link between sport and mind strength, that’s why I am known as “The Soul Trainer”.   I have my own story of dealing with my own mental issues, which I will put up on my next blog.

The benefits of physical activity for reducing obesity and preventing chronic illness (such as Type 2 diabetes) but national surveys show only one-third of the population meet UK physical activity guidelines. Mental Health Awareness week is deliberately not focusing on physical activity as something which people should do to overcome a deficit in their health. But, instead take a strengths based approach and focus on the potential for physical activity to enhance well-being and mental health.  Everyone knows being physically active is good for their physical health, but do they know it is good for their well-being and mental health.

The aim Mental Health Awareness week is to change the way we view physical activity in the UK: to shift physical activity from a behaviour which we do because we ‘have to do’, ‘should do’ or ‘ought to do’ for our health, to something which we do because we personally value its positive benefits to our well-being.  In other words: to view physical activity ‘as a pleasure and not a chore’.

We need to view physical activity as enjoyable and something that enhances our lives. Furthermore it is something that protects our mental health and that we can take control over in our lives.  Given the difficult financial climate it can seem like the government or the banks have control over our lives and our wellbeing but physical activity is something that we can do to manage stress brought about by uncertainty and to feel positive about ourselves and our lives.  One thing that is clear from the research is that doing any physical activity is better than doing none in terms of well-being and mental health. Getting started is the most important thing. Even small increases in levels of activity can improve well-being and start a cycle of positive reinforcement and motivation to continue, and gain the maximum benefits that physical activity can confer. There are lots of ways to be physically active so it is about finding the activity that is right for you (e.g. dance, martial arts, outdoor activities, taking the stairs).

Physical activity should be seen as a natural part of people’s lives, not something else to find the time to do. For example physical activity includes taking the stairs at the train station or department store (rather than the lift or escalator) and walking or cycling to work and to the shops.  It also includes going out to play as children. These forms of physical activity can be built into our everyday lives and become part of our regular routine. In this way we can regularly gain the well-being benefits of physical activity. For people who enjoy more regular and structured forms of physical activity, such as going to the gym, going out for a run or playing sport these are great ways to enhance well-being and mental health as well.   Physical activity intensity, duration of each session, frequency and type can all influence the relationship between physical activity and well-being.

Summary of selected evidence:

An increasingly large body of research shows that physical activity promotes well-being and mental health. The mechanisms underlying this relationship are complex and multifaceted: biochemical, physiological, psychological and social mechanisms have been proposed. A biochemical and physiological reason for why physical activity improves well-being and mental health is because exercising helps release chemicals like serotonin, endorphins and dopamine which have been shown to lift mood which would explain why research has found physical activity to have an anti-depressant effect (Callaghan 2004; Donaghy 2007). In addition, psychological reasons for improved well-being and mental health as a result of physical activity is that it can lead to improved body-image, self-esteem and self-worth, as well as promoting social inclusion, social networks and coping strategies (Richardson 2005; Cripps 2008; Dixon 2008; Whitelaw 2008).

In addition there is some evidence that physical activity can act as both prevention and treatment for various mental illnesses including depression and anxiety (Callaghan 2004; Richardson 2005; Saxena 2005; Donaghy 2007; Cripps 2008). There is less evidence exploring the impact physical activity has in preventing or reducing the symptoms of more severe and enduring mental illness such as schizophrenia and other psychosis. However, emerging evidence has found that participating in exercise is associated with an alleviation of negative symptoms associated with schizophrenia such as depression, low self-esteem and social withdrawal (Faulkner & Gorczynski, in press).

Please support Mental Health Awareness week and integrating activity and sport into peoples lives.

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