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Information about how physical activity can help your mental health, and tips for choosing an activity that works for you, and how to overcome anything that might stop you from becoming more active.
Being physically active means sitting down less and moving our bodies more. Many people find that physical activity helps them maintain positive mental health, either on its own, or in combination with other treatments.
This doesn’t have to mean running marathons or training every day at the gym. There are lots of different things you can do to be a bit more active. For ideas, see our information on choosing an activity. We also have some tips to help you get started, and information about how much activity is healthy.
Watch our video for five ways to get moving and feel better:
However, it can be difficult to be physically active, especially if you are feeling unwell. We have information which you may find helpful if:
There are many studies which have shown that doing physical activity can improve mental health. For example, it can help with:
"I’ve always found that exercise is the one thing that gets me well again, with depression, it’s invaluable. It makes me feel great, just healthy and active. I don’t feel as tired or lethargic when I exercise and it makes me happy and content in myself."
But physical activity isn't always helpful for everyone's mental health. You may find that it is helpful at some times and not others, or just that it doesn't work for you. For some people, physical activity can start to have a negative impact on their mental health, for example, if you have an eating problem or tend to overtrain.
"Exercise ... can seem like [an] impossible challenge when you're having a tough time."
When you're feeling unwell, it can be really hard to get started and it can be frustrating when people tell you about the benefits of being more active.
If you’re in a really bad place, don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t exercise. It can be easy to start feeling guilty or beat yourself up about not exercising, and this can start to contribute to feeling unwell.
You may need to focus on other things for a while, and build some physical activity into your routine once you’re feeling a bit better. It’s important to find a balance, and figure out what works best for you.
This information was published in March 2019. We will revise it in 2022.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.