Mental Health Week: Physical Activity for Physical and Mental Health

Physical activity is incredibly important for both our physical and mental health. Lindsay Bottoms, Reader in Exercise and Health Physiology at the University, has been looking at how physical activity impacts our physical and mental wellbeing, and gives advice on ways we can keep ourselves active to improve our overall health.

The Hard Truth

Physical activity is very important as part of a healthy lifestyle. Currently physical inactivity is the 4th leading cause of death worldwide!  

The Chief Medical Officer guidelines for physical activity for healthy adults is 150 minutes of moderate equivalent of brisk walking a week, with strengthening exercises on 2 days of the week. The guidelines were recently updated to show that you can do the 150 minutes in as many small chunks as you want if it accumulates to 150 minutes.    

Sport England reported in 2018 that 26% of the population in England were inactive and did not meet 30 minutes of activity a week. A recent NHS England report in 2020 showed that 67% of men and 60% of women were overweight or obese.  Inactivity and obesity can lead to several different health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and depression.


It only takes a small amount of regular physical activity to improve health, especially for those who are least active. Therefore, move more, sit less helps to promote health.    


The benefits of being active

If physical activity was a pill, the pharmaceutical industry would have been promoting it as a miracle drug.  The health benefits of physical activity are so wide fetching from reducing the chances of developing chronic illnesses such as dementia and certain cancers to reversing health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes. As we are all far too aware, we are in the middle of a pandemic and therefore improving and maintaining health improves our immune system and helps us fight illnesses such as COVID-19.  Therefore, the Government is wanting to tackle the obesity and inactivity issues that the UK faces in our battle with COVID-19. 


In recent years the benefits of physical activity has started to be acknowledged by the medical profession and we now have exercise referral schemes to help with conditions such as high blood pressure and preventing Type II diabetes.  Scientists have found that improving fitness levels ahead of major heart surgery improves the survival chances of patients.   


Good mood, less stress  

When we take part in physical activity our body releases endorphins which makes us feel a lot happier when we finish exercising. Physical activity has been shown to improve mood and helps us reduce stress. It has been found to reduce symptoms of depression and improve other mental health conditions. Another critical benefit of physical activity is our increase in resilience. We tend to be able to cope with more difficult situations if we regularly undertake physical activity. In a time, such as now where COVID-19 is upsetting the normal balances in our lives, increasing our resilience is of upmost importance.   

Tackling health conditions 

An interesting fact about a lot of chronic health conditions including dementia, depression, cardiovascular disease, obesity and many more conditions is the role of systemic inflammation. Recent studies have shown that that all these conditions show high levels of inflammation in the body.  One physiological benefit of physical activity is that it reduces systemic inflammation, which enables our body to battle and help us fight against these conditions. Also, undertaking physical activity boosts our immune system, again helping us fight against illnesses such as COVID-19.   

Move more, sit less!  

So, being an exercise and health physiologist my advice to everyone is to get out and be more active. There are many barriers that people face preventing them from taking part in physical activity but there are ways we can overcome some of these.   

If you are going into work, could you walk part of the way by using something like the park and ride? If you are working from home, can you take part in an online exercise programme? To be able to socialise with social distancing, could you meet your friend for a walk rather than meeting for a coffee in a café? For example, you could take a look at the Sculpture or biodiversity walks on campus.   

Remember, small amounts of physical activity positively impact your health.  Remember to take regular breaks to move around when working at your computer all day. Move more, sit less helps improve our health!  




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