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Moving More for Mental Health

Celebrating World Mental Health Awareness Week

Posted on Tuesday May 14, 2024

Many people only think about exercise when they are trying to lose weight. When we focus in this way exercise can feel like a ‘should’ rather than a ‘want’. Many people I’ve spoken to who struggle with their weight don’t exercise because they feel ashamed; maybe because of experience in school – being the last to get picked for sports, or maybe because they worry about what others will think of them. So, often exercise is avoided. 

Movement and Mood

Most of us will be able to recognise that if we feel low in mood, activity can feel difficult. It then becomes a negative spiral of: the less we do, the worse we feel and so then the less we do. Research has consistently found exercise has a positive impact on our mood, mental alertness, and energy. 

This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Moving More for Mental Health’ check out their information for support. 

It's time we untangled the idea that exercise is a chore. This can add to a sense of stress and so we give up because we feel overwhelmed.  Moving our body is so important for our wellbeing, and if we find the right type for us, then it’s also fun!  So how do we start? 

Start from where you are now

Here’s another ‘should’ …exercising to the level recommended. Rather than setting this as a starting goal, think about where you are now. If you’re already quite active then achieving 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise a week may not feel too big a jump. But if you’re not currently active then it is likely to feel unachievable. Far better to start with very small goals and achieve them consistently than feel overwhelmed and not start at all. 

What is getting in your way?


Many people who experience pain struggle to exercise


It is hard to dedicate time for exercise when our life is busy 

Limited opportunity

Limited finances, not being close to a gym or activity centre can make exercise feel inaccessible.

Lack of encouragement

Not having anyone to exercise with can make attending a class or gym daunting. It can also make it easier to talk yourself out of doing it.


Struggling with our mental health might make us feel like we can’t summon the inclination or energy to be active, or perhaps we feel too anxious to start. There will be other ways that our mental health seems to prevent us from being active. 


Feeling embarrassed about our body is a very common barrier to exercise for people who struggle with their weight, low mood and anxiety. Shame can also be a barrier for people who have previously been active but have stopped. Restarting can feel difficult because of how fitness and strength may have changed. 


Health conditions, sleep disturbance, poor nutrition and stress can all impact on energy levels which make it harder to feel inclined to exercise. 

So, what can you do? 

  • There’s no point in planning to go to the gym if you hate that kind of exercise. Instead, think about what kind of movement you enjoy. 
  • Start from where you are. Try to increase your activity by small amounts.
  • The key is regularity, not the amount you are doing. 
  • Tune in to all of the enjoyable aspects of what you are doing. For example, if you are outside, notice the sounds, smells and feel of the weather on your face. Notice if there are trees, or buildings that you like. 
  • Do you have a friend or family member who could encourage you? They don’t have to go with you; they might ask you how you are getting on and support you to keep going. 
  • Make activity part of your everyday life.  If time is short, weave activity into your day rather than dedicated sessions.  
  • Research has found that getting up and moving every 20 minutes has similar benefits to moderate exercise 3 times per week. Can you set a reminder on your phone or watch to move regularly? Can you stretch between meetings or during TV advert breaks? Can you alternate standing and sitting when you work? 
  • Use the time when you are being active to listen to music or an interesting podcast. 
  • Consider your hydration and nutrition. These have a significant impact on how we feel. If they are sub-optimal it can make moving harder; we can feel low in energy, experience early fatigue and find it hard to concentrate. Our specialist dieititans can guide you with this if you need more support. 

Don’t wait until you feel ready - start now!

Sometimes we wait until the conditions are perfect and we feel like exercising. This may not happen. So, what can you do now, even if you don’t really feel like it?

The flipside of the negative spiral described at the start of this article is a positive cycle:

The more regularly we move, the better we feel.

The better we feel, the more we move.

There are some great resources to read more about movement for our mental health:

Mind's Physical Activity, Exercise & Mental Health 

How to look after your Mental Health with exercise 

Exercise for Depression 

Movement is Medicine 

Specialist support after weight loss surgery 

If you have had weight loss surgery and you are uncertain about how to ensure you are fuelling your body for exercise, then you can speak to our dietitian Beth Greenslade. She specialises in sports nutrition for people who have had bariatric surgery. 

Let us know how we can support you

0117 235 5354

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