Physical activity and your mental health

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.

Your stories

Tackling anxiety and taking on Mind Hike

Nikki shares her story of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and signing up for Mind Hike.

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Posted on 15/03/2019

Cold comfort: How sea swimming boosts my mental health

Rhiannon reveals how sea swimming has helped with her PTSD and depression.

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The ups and downs of running with bipolar disorder

Laura blogs about why she's found running and training for races quite difficult mentally at times.

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What type of activity might work for me?

Being physically active tends to be easier if you choose an activity that you enjoy, and that fits into your daily life. If you force yourself to do something you don't enjoy, you're much less likely to keep it going and experience benefits to your mental health.

There are lots of different things you can try – not everybody will enjoy or feel comfortable doing all of these activities, so you may need to try a few before you find something you like. You may also find that different things work for you at different times, depending on how you’re feeling.

If you think you might find it hard to get going with any of these things, we have information which may help you get started.

Here are some ideas for activities you can try:

Activities at home

  • Try to sit less – if you spend lots of time sitting down, try to get up and move around a bit every hour. If you’re worried you might forget, you could set an alarm to remind yourself.
  • Chair-based exercises – if you have mobility problems, a physical condition, or find it difficult spending time out of a chair, the NHS website has activity routines you can try while sitting down.
  • Play an active computer game – there are a few different gaming consoles you could try which involve actively moving your body while playing computer games.
  • Do exercises or stretches at home – the NHS website has lots of different routines, or you could try an exercise CD or DVD.
  • Do an online activity programme – there are lots of free, online exercise regimes designed for you to try at home, including everything from chair-based exercises to yoga and cardio workouts.
  • Do active household chores, like hoovering, tidying or DIY.
  • Include more activity in your day-to-day routine – run up the stairs instead of walking, carry your bags of shopping in one at a time or do some gentle stretching while you're watching TV.
  • Dance – put on some music while you're cooking and dance around your kitchen, or have a mini dance party with your friends or family.

It calms my mind, it stops me ruminating, it actively lifts my mood and it makes me feel a lot more positive about life.

Activities out and about

  • Walk a bit more – to work, to the shops, or to the end of the road and back.
  • Play a game in the park – for example, frisbee, tag or a game of catch.
  • Try a new sport, or join a team, group or exercise class – the Be Inspired website has lots of information about what different sports and activities are like, and how to get involved.
  • Volunteer outdoors – The Conservation Volunteers and The Wildlife Trusts run outdoor volunteering projects around the UK.
  • Find your local leisure centre – leisure centres have a range of sports facilities, such as badminton and squash courts, and run exercise classes and groups, such as Zumba and aerobics. They often feel more inclusive than private gyms, and many have discount schemes and childcare facilities. Check your local council website to find your nearest centre.
  • Try a dance class – from Zumba to swing, ballroom or dancercise, the NHS website has a directory of classes in your local area.
  • Walking or running groupsWalking for Health, Let’s Walk Cymru, Ramblers and Run Together all organise free, inclusive local groups with trained volunteers.

I’m not the sporty type, but I love walking. It really lifts my mood.

  • Outdoors gyms – some local parks have free outdoors gym equipment you can use. You can try your local council website to find the location of any outdoor gyms near you.
  • Cycling – whether riding to the shops or to work, or going on long bike rides at the weekend, the Sustrans website has lots of ideas for routes and information about safe cycling to get you started.
  • Adventure gaming apps – some gaming apps are a great opportunity to explore outside.
  • A mindful sport, such as yoga, pilates, tai chi or Nordic walking – the NHS website has information about what these involve and how to find classes.
  • Gardening or seated gardening – the Carry on Gardening website has information about gardening for emotional wellbeing and with particular disabilities. If you don’t have a garden at home, the Social Farms & Gardens website has details of community garden and farms around the UK.
  • Be active in nature – our information on nature and mental health has lots of ideas for getting active outdoors.
  • Swimmingswimming.org has a search tool to find your local pool, information about adult swim classes and water-based sports such as aqua aerobics, aqua Zumba, water polo and synchronised swimming, as well as pool exercises you can do on your own.

Swimming has helped me. The pool is one of my safe places now and I go twice a week. It means that I’m tired at the end of the day so I can sleep much better, and I feel happier about my body.

Motivation and extra support

  • Music – putting music or a podcast on your headphones can help distract, entertain or motivate you while you exercise.
  • Apps and programmes, such as the NHS's Strength and Flex and Couch to 5K, give you step-by-step programmes to follow, include information about how to exercise safely and help keep you motivated.
  • Enjoy alone time – being active alone can provide a good way to reflect on how you're feeling or practise being mindful.
  • Online communities – you could check in with other people are who also trying to get more active on an online community, such as Mind's community Elefriends. This can help you stay motivated and connect with others in a similar situation.
  • Ask for recommendations – some activities are more inclusive than others. Try asking your GP, friends or an online community like Elefriends for recommendations and tips.
  • Raise money for charity – many charities, including Mind, support people who want to do an active challenge, like an organised run or bike ride, and use it as a chance to raise funds and support the charity's work.
  • If you identify as female, check out the This Girl Can website for lots of ideas, from trying a new sport to being more active as part of your day-to-day life.
  • Exercise with other people – many people find that joining a group or getting active with someone they know - like a friend, family member, colleague or support worker - can be motivating and make a new activity more enjoyable.

The thought of going to a gym on my own terrified me but I started going to various exercise classes with a friend. The difference it made to my mental health was incredible.

Sujan found that joining a jogging group helped her manage her anxiety and panic attacks. In this video she shares her story.

Disability, mental health and inclusive activities

  • Disability sports – the NHS and Disability Sports Wales websites list local organisations that offer disability sports in your area, whatever your disability or level of fitness.
  • Walking sports – many sports are available in a walking version, such as walking football, walking hockey or walking basketball.
  • Inclusive gyms – the Activity Alliance has information about inclusive gyms and leisure centres, which offer welcoming and accessible environments for people with disabilities. This includes a search tool to help you find an accredited inclusive gym in your area.
  • Try an NHS routine – the NHS website has tips and routines for people with disabilities who want to get more active, as well as fitness guides for wheelchair users.
  • Specific activities for people with a mental health problem – some local Minds offer physical activity sessions through Mind's Get Set to Go programme.
  • Ask for a referral to a physical activity scheme – if you have a mental health problem, your GP may be able to refer you to a physical activity programme.

This information was published in March 2019. We will revise it in 2022.


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