Next week is World Mental Health Day so we thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about the subject of mental health and physical activity.
Mental health and wellbeing are an essential part of people’s quality of life. Being regularly active plays an important role in keeping us physically healthy. It also has the potential to prevent mental health problems whilst improving the health and wellbeing of people living with a mental health problem.
In the UK, one in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem, with anxiety and depression being two of the most common mental health problems. This can not only have a significant impact on the person and their friends and family, there is also a cost to the workplace through sickness absence, staff turnover and lost productivity. 70 million working days are lost each year due to mental ill health at an estimated cost of £70 to £100bn and over the past six years the number of sick days due to depression and anxiety has risen by 24% (source: http://ow.ly/ssEK30fCe5l).
The good news is that moderate levels of physical activity, such as a brisk walk, can have a positive role to play in improving our mental wellbeing. The evidence shows that being physically active can:
- Reduce risk of depression
- Enhance psychological wellbeing
- Improve self-perception and self-esteem
- Improve mood and sleep quality
- Reduce levels of anxiety and fatigue
The Step Count Challenge supports people to become and stay active through everyday walking such as commuting to work, walking at lunchtime or in the evening and weekends with family and friends. In fact, there are lots of ways that you can fit a little bit of walking into your routines. Over the years we’ve heard lots of participants say how taking part in the challenge has positively benefited their mental wellbeing.
In 2016 we published a qualitative report by an MSc student. The study looked at the experiences of 10 women who had entered the challenge. All of them reported some benefits to their mental health as a result of participating. The themes that emerged included the social benefits of meeting new people and getting to know colleagues better. One interviewee said:
“It was nice to get out with colleagues at work, ’cause we would chat about things that weren’t just work related.”
We also found that the participants reported significant improvements in mood after they had been walking as these quotes illustrate:
“Just glad to be out, away from your desk and just stretching out and then when I’m back I just feel more positive.”
“You always feel better in the fresh air, and then when you came back (from the walk) you’re ready to work.”
For a number of the participants, walking allowed a space to ‘escape‘ work pressures with one person saying, “I think it probably helped me through all the busy time I have at work, it might have got me down otherwise”, whilst another participant said, “it gives you time to think about things, and it helps you to manage your stress.”
So, with World Mental Health Day approaching, take some positive steps to improving your mental wellbeing and fit some walking into your day.