Move On Up

by Brian Woods

To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week, Brian Woods focuses on this year’s theme – MOVEMENT - by talking about the benefits of exercise for our mental wellbeing.

A remarkable thing happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.  During lockdown we were limited to just a short walk each day.  It was then that many people discovered the benefits of taking regular movement and exercise.  It was (and still is) vitally important for our physical and mental well-being.

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (13 – 19 May) is Movement: moving for our mental health.  Whether we cycle, run, walk, or swim, there are several benefits for our mental health.

Not least is the release in the body of endorphins.  This ‘feel good‘ hormone helps to boost our mood and reduces anxiety.  Exercising also releases tension from our bodies.  This reduces anxiety and thus helps to combat stress.  Regular movement and exercise can help to improve our sleep, too.

If we are out walking in the countryside, for example, we become more focused on what is around us.  We are aware of the landscape and nature.  This helps to calm our mind.  It is a great ‘stress-buster‘.

Regular movement and exercise can also improve our social connections.  For example, a number of local walking groups have been set up across the country to encourage this.  One of these meets up every week in my home town to do a short walk.  Information about these groups can be found from local councils, community centres, and libraries.

It is a good idea to take things gradually at first if you are not used to regular exercise.  Set small goals such as walking a little further each week.  There is a sense of achievement if we do this, too.

This also helps to motivate us.  Because let’s face it we all have days when we feel less inclined to move and exercise!  On such days it is still important to keep to a routine.  However, if we do something that we enjoy then it seems less of a chore.

We can also build movement and exercise into our day.  Doing stretching or chair exercises in our spare moments.  Cycling or walking instead of using our car or public transport on short journeys.  Just ten minutes of movement each day can enhance our mental health.  This is especially true if we exercise in the morning when we usually feel more motivated.  Mindful activities such as tai chi, Pilates, or yoga are especially beneficial to good mental health.

Sometimes it is possible to combine movement and exercise with one of our hobbies or interests.  I love to sketch and draw.  I also like to walk in the countryside.  Few things make me happier than to wander through a landscape sketching as I go.

Cost can sometimes seem to be a barrier to our ability to exercise.  However, people with depression can sometimes access exercise prescriptions through their GP.  This can include reduced cost or free exercise programmes.  Enquire at your local surgery for further information.  There is also signposting to free or low cost activities on the NHS website, (

There are also options for people who have limited mobility.  These include chair exercises, gentle stretching, and other low-impact activities.  The campaign We Are Undefeatable also offer advice and tips on their website.   This includes Five In Five, a five minute mini-workout designed for people living with long-term health conditions.

Movement and exercise are vital to good mental health.  And Mental Health Awareness Week is a good time to start incorporating them into our lives.  The time is now!

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