Exercise and our Mental Health

Exercise and our Mental Health

I was honoured to speak about Exercise and Mental Health at this year’s Mensana Week in Gairdin Beo. The event was organised by the amazing team at Carlow Mental Health Association and was a credit to all involved with a great line up of varied speakers.

The World Health Organisation states that mental health is an integral and essential component of health. They define mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and can make a contribution to their community.

The current statistics state that one in four people will experience a mental health condition of some sort in their lifetime. With mental health problems being one of the main causes of overall disease burden worldwide. It is thought that 20% of people living with osteoarthritis have depression or anxiety with 33% of people affected by a stroke having depression.

It is well proven that exercise helps with our mental health. As far back as the Greek philosopher Hippocrates who stated “Walking is man’s best medicine”. But in recent times there has been more scientific data to back up this statement. Even though the benefits of exercise for our mental health is well documented and recommended by medical practitioners there does appear to be some barriers to exercise. The research has shown that there are multiple barriers to people exercising. These include lack of support, tiredness, physical illness, too little time, feeling unsafe, fear of injury. However, on the other end of the spectrum there were lots of motivating factors for exercise including improved physical health, reducing stress, sleeping better, increased energy and improving mental health.

The effects of exercise on our mental health include;

  • Improvements in mood and state anxiety
  • Reduce stress level
  • Distraction of negative thoughts
  • Increase energy level
  • Increased ability to concentrate and focus
  • Improved quality of sleep


Tips on how to make exercising easier;

  1. The recommended minimum daily allowance is 150minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week. This can be broken down into smaller chunks for example 30 minutes five times per week. The exercise should be intense enough so that your breath quickens but not out of breath and should still be able to carry out a conversation.


  1. Do something you like! Ask yourself whether you’d prefer being indoors or out, doing a group or individual activity, or trying a new sport. If you’re put off by sporty exercises, or feel uninspired at the thought of limiting yourself to just one activity, think outside the box and remember that going on a walk, doing housework, and gardening are all physical activities. What kind of activity would suit you best? Think about what parts of your body you want to exercise and whether you’d prefer to be active at home or whether you fancy a change of scenery and would prefer to exercise in a different environment, indoors or outdoors.


  1. Get a friend/family member to exercise with – accountability. Consider would you rather go it alone or do an activity with a friend? Social support is a great motivator, and sharing your experiences, goals and achievements will help you to keep focus and enthusiasm.
  2. Time availability. What time do you have available for exercise? You may need to rejig commitments to make room for extra activities, or choose something that fits into your busy schedule.
  3. Make it part of your daily routine. Adopting a more active lifestyle can be as simple as doing daily tasks more energetically or making small changes to your routine, such as walking up a flight of stairs.
  4. Set some easy goals and look at the short-term benefits of exercise.
  5. If physical activity is new to you, it’s best to build up your ability gradually. Focus on task goals, such as improving sport skills or stamina, rather than competition, and keep a record of your activity and review it to provide feedback on your progress. There are many apps and social networks accessible for free to help.
  6. Join a class, a club or try a new hobby. This can be more social, learning new skills and takes the focus off the physical activity.
  7. Remember there will always be relapses. This is a marathon not a sprint. Consistency is key.
  8. Avoid comparing yourself to other people. You are trying to make changes for the long-term benefit of your health – it’s your journey.
  9. If need help – ask for help! If your concerned about your baseline health – talk to your GP or chartered physiotherapist about strategies to help increase your physical activity.