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.

Nikki
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.

Rhiannon
Posted on 22/11/2018

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.

Laura H
Posted on 18/03/2015

How much activity should I do?

There are lots of benefits to being more active, and any amount of physical activity can help. You don't have to begin a vigorous training plan to start feeling better.

How much activity you decide to do is personal to you. This will depend on your current level of activity and fitness, and what you can fit in with your day-to-day life.

There may also be things that affect how much activity is safe for you to do, such as medication you might be taking, an eating problem, anxiety, OCD, or a physical health condition. See our information on what to do before you start exercising if you think these things may affect you.

What's important is that you work out what feels realistic for you at the moment. This may change from time to time, depending on how you are feeling, and what you are able to do.

NHS guidelines

The NHS website has information about how much exercise a person is recommended to do each week, and how intense (moderate or vigorous) this activity would ideally be. The NHS's information includes examples of activities which count as moderate or vigorous exercise.

However, it's important to remember that this is just a guide based on the average person, and it's OK if you don’t feel like you can achieve this right now. The important thing is to start to try to increase your activity levels, and to find something that works for you.

Overtraining

Doing too much physical activity can be as unhealthy as doing too little. This is called overtraining or overexercise.

Overtraining can have a negative impact on both your mental and physical health. For example, it can:

  • cause injury and long-term physical damage to tendons, ligaments, bones, cartilage and joints.
  • destroy muscle mass.
  • become life-threatening - if your body isn't getting enough nutrition, it is forced to break down muscle for energy.
  • have a negative impact on your relationships, mood and ability to function in other areas of your life.

How can I spot if I'm overtraining?

It can be really hard to spot that you are starting to overtrain. Some signs that you may be overtraining include:

  • Never having a day off – including training when injured or unwell.
  • Physical activity has started to affect your relationships, work, hobbies or other responsibilities.
  • You feel anxious or irritable if you miss a session.
  • You constantly feel you have to push yourself to go further, faster or heavier.
  • You no longer enjoy it but feel it's something you have to do.

How can I stop myself from overtraining?

If you feel like you are overtraining, it can help to:

  • Re-focus - re-assess why you wanted to be active in the first place and what you enjoy about it.
  • Try a new activity or mix up your routine.
  • Try a less competitive sport or atmosphere – like tai chi, yoga or pilates, or a different class or instructor.
  • Limit your exercise time to a healthy schedule - for example, sessions of 30 minutes, 5 times a week.
  • Listen to your body - have some time off if you need it, or if you're in pain or unwell.
  • Take a break - you may need to stop exercising for a while to focus on other things.
  • Seek help - you may need to get support if you feel like overtraining is starting to have a negative impact on your mental or physical health - for example, by visiting your GP.

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


Exercise

Mental Health A-Z

Information and advice on a huge range of mental health topics

> Read our A-Z

Training

Helping you to better understand and support people with mental health problems

> Find out more

Special offers

Check out our promotional offers on print and digital booklets, for a limited time only

> Visit our shop today