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The Relationship Between Physical Activity and Mental Health


"To Keep the body in good health is a duty...otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear"

Physical Activity has a huge potential to enhance wellbeing in our population. It is known that even a short burst of 10 minutes brisk walking increases mental alertness, energy and positive mood states. The Mental Health Foundation stipulate that physical activity can have an impact on mental health in the following ways...


Positive Moods

There is increasing evidence that physical activity can be an effective way to enhance positive moods. Generally, people with high active levels possess higher levels of positive emotions such as enthusiasm, interest and excitement.


Stress causes the body to produce more of the so-called 'fight or flight' chemicals which prepare for an emergency. In effect this causes chemical changes within the body which makes it easier to fight or runaway. Unfortunately these changes are less helpful for individuals who are within an environment where they can not fight or run away, for example school or work. If individuals experience this process often, it can lead to long term health issues. Long term stress can cause people to turn to coping strategies and unfortunately some of these are not always healthy, e.g. alcohol and smoking.  Physical activity offers an alternative and healthier approach to managing and reducing stress.


Self-esteem is a key indicator of psychological wellbeing. People with high self-esteem tend to have high life satisfaction, resilience and greater achievement in education and work. Physical activity is a behavior which has strong influence on physical self-esteem and smaller but significant influence on overall self-esteem. Studies have found that there is a strong and positive correlation between positive self-esteem and physical activity participation across all age groups.


Depression varies in severity from mild to severe, and between 8%-12% of the British population experience depression in any year. Though medication is a source of treatment for people who suffer with depression, physical activity can be an alternative treatment approach. It has very few side effect and does not have the stigma that some people perceive to be attached to taking other forms of medication.


Anxiety symptoms vary from mild to severe. Feeling anxious is sometimes perfectly normal. However, people with generalized anxiety disorder find it hard to control their worries; their feelings of anxiety are more constant often affect their daily life. Some research has found that increasing physical activity levels can help reduce anxiety.  

For more information please read the Mental Health Foundations 'Lets Get Physical, The Impact of Physical Activity on Wellbeing' document.



Public Health England teamed up with Disney to conduct a survey which looked at the effects of physical activity on children's emotional wellbeing.

Key findings:

  • being active made 79% of 5-11 year old happier, 72% more confident, 74% more sociable according to their parents
  • 93% of children said they liked being active
  • the main motivation for children to be more active was having friends to join in and having more activities they would like to choose from
  • children's overall happiness declines with age; 64% of 5 and 6 year olds said they always feel happy, compared to just 48% of 11 year olds
  • 19% of children said they were less active due to a lack of sports activities they enjoyed



'Mind' provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. Mind have developed a toolkit for mental health providers and/or sports and physical activity providers; both of which could be help your school toward addressing mental health. Please click on the links below to open the toolkits.

Delivering a sport and physical activity service: A toolkit for mental health providers - /a-toolkit-for-mental-health-providers.pdf

Sport and physical activity for people with mental health problems: a toolkit for the sports sector - /sport-and-physical-activity-for-mh.pdf