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.

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What if getting active doesn't work for me?

While many people find physical activity helpful, not everyone does. You may find that there are times when it is helpful, and times when it isn’t.

For example:

  • You may not always be able to exercise – if you are unwell, you may need to focus on looking after your mental health in other ways.
  • It may not help – there may be days, weeks or months when physical activity doesn’t make you feel better, and you may need other types of support.
  • For some people, exercise can make mental health worse – it can trigger anxiety, be part of a mental health problem like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or an eating problem, or you may start to overtrain.
  • You may be taking medication or have a physical health condition that means you can’t exercise or need to take particular care when doing any physical activity, either for a while or longer term.

If you find that physical activity isn’t working for you right now, there are a few things you can do:

  • Try changing your routine, or doing a different type of activity. Different things work for different people at different times – there are lots of activities you can try.
  • Do what you can when you can. It’s completely normal to have days when you wake up excited about going for a run, and other days when walking upstairs feels like a challenge. It’s OK to adapt your physical activity to how you’re feeling.
  • Be gentle with yourself. If you don’t manage to do what you were planning, that’s OK. Have a break, and try again when you’re feeling better.
  • Try out some other ways of caring for yourself, like relaxation, mindfulness and getting into nature.
  • If you’re struggling to manage your mental health on your own, seek help. You might want to talk to your GP about possible treatments, such as medication or a talking therapy.
  • If you’re finding that exercise is having a negative impact on your mental health, you may need to take a longer-term break until you’re feeling better.

If you’ve tried being physically active and it hasn’t helped, it’s important not to blame yourself. Looking after your mental health can be really difficult, especially when you're not feeling well. It can take time, but many people find that when they have the right combination of treatments, self-care and support, it is possible to feel better.


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


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