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Move for Mind

Every January Mind launches their ‘Move for Mind’ in January programme – 31 minutes of exercise each day for 31 days. You can join the programme and raise sponsorship to support better mental health. But lets think about exercise all year long and the benefits for your mental health and well-being.

There are many reasons why physical activity is good for your body – having a healthy heart and improving your joints and bones are just two, but did you know that physical activity is also beneficial for your mental health and well-being? 

We need to change how we view physical activity in the UK to not see it as something we ‘have to do’, ‘should do’ or ‘ought to do’ for our health. But as something that we do because we value its positive benefits to our well-being.

Being active releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good – boosting your self-esteem and helping you concentrate as well as sleep well and feel better. Not bad for something many of us can do for free!

Being active doesn’t have to mean taking out an expensive gym membership or running marathons. Finding an activity you enjoy can give you a goal to aim for and a sense of purpose. It can also be a great way to meet people, have a break from daily life and gain confidence.

Other benefits include:

less tension, stress and mental fatigue

a natural energy boost

a sense of achievement

more focus and motivation

feeling less angry or frustrated

a healthy appetite

having fun

It’s even better if you’re able to get active outdoors. Research shows that being in nature can make us feel happier, feel our lives are more worthwhile, and reduce our levels of depression and anxiety. Nature doesn’t have to mean forests or national parks either: walking to a local common, visiting a friend’s garden or simply noticing trees and flowers planted by the roadside can boost your mental well-being.

How active do I need to be?

Any amount of physical activity is better than none. Finding an activity you like and are able to do regularly is more important than pushing yourself to do something you don’t enjoy. You could try brisk walking, mowing the lawn, dancing, swimming, following an exercise video or online class, trying a new sport or anything that gets your body moving.

Government guidelines suggest adults aim to do 150 minutes of moderate activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week. The NHS website has different examples of activities you could try as well as free online exercise videos. This might sound like a lot, but don’t be put off if you don’t feel you can manage this now. Start small and build up slowly if you don’t do much physical activity.

The guidelines also suggest doing strength-building exercises at least two days a week. This could be yoga, pilates, weight lifting, wheeling a wheelchair, or carrying heavy shopping bags. Strength-building exercises also builds muscle, with boosts your metabolism.

Things to consider before getting started

If you have a mental health condition, there may be factors that affect the amount or type of physical activity you can do. Here are some things you may need to consider.

I take regular medication

Certain medications can affect the exercise you can do. For example, taking beta-blockers will mean your heart works harder when exercising, so you may need to adjust the type or amount of exercise you do. If you take lithium, losing fluid from your body through sweating can increase the concentration of lithium in your blood to a harmful level. Talk to your doctor before you start exercising or if you change your medication.

My medication and/or mental health condition makes me feel tired and lethargic

Work with your body and your mood. For example, if you know your medication makes you feel tired in the mornings, plan to get active later in the day. If you feel unmotivated all day, try just going for a walk. Even a short walk can clear your mind and boost your energy level. If there are times when you just don’t have the motivation or energy to exercise, be kind to yourself. It’s ok to slow down, do less or take a break. Do what you can, when you can.

I have/am recovering from an eating disorder

While exercise can be a positive part of recovery, some people with an eating disorder find they are over-exercising. Talk to your GP before starting to get active.

I have anxiety or experience panic attacks

How you feel when you get active – breathless, hot, sweaty, a fast heart rate – can feel similar to the symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks. This can be distressing and may then cause a panic attack or increased anxiety.

If this happens to you, try a lower-impact activity such as yoga or pilates. When this feels ok, build up the intensity slowly and notice the difference between the effects of physical activity and a panic attack. Exercising with someone else may help you feel reassured that help is available if you feel anxious.

This month I am also starting MHFA ‘Check-in’ sessions. These 45 minute sessions are £45pp. These support sessions for MHFAiders will provide support, guidance and opportunities to provide knowledge, insights and best practice.

To book in for a ‘check-in’ session or to enquire about a group session contact us at Sanitas Hub.

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