Movement for mental health

Moving More for Mental Health

Happy mental health awareness week! The week of May 13–19, 2024, promotes mental health awareness in Europe. Across the world, people practice the longstanding tradition of celebrating mental health in May. In the US and Canada, they celebrate mental health awareness for the whole month of May

Mental health is so important; one in two people in the world will develop a mental health condition in their lifetime. There are many factors which can affect mental health, including biological factors such as genetics, physical health, sleep patterns and diet. Other factors include beliefs, perception, addictions and social factors such as stress. As more of the population starts to focus on improving their mental well-being, it’s important to bring awareness to activities and therapies that can help to manage mental stresses.

This year the theme is “moving more for mental health”. It’s been proven that exercise can help to mitigate some symptoms of mental illness. Many people are finding it harder to incorporate exercise into their daily routine due to work obligations and various health conditions. As mental illness become more prevalent globally, it’s important to find new and innovative ways to exercise and get moving.

This article details MDPI research which demonstrates the benefits of exercise on mental health and and how to better incorporate exercise into daily life.

Supporting post-menopausal health

As mentioned, various factors can influence mental-well being, one of those being post-menopausal health. Menopause affects half of the world’s population, yet there remains a lot of uncertainty and misinformation about it.

As with many elements of women’s health, menopause and post-menopausal health are under-researched and often misunderstood.

Fellow blogger Jack McKenna goes into great depth on this subject, giving us a clear picture of some of what we understand about menopause, as well as mental health in a post-menopausal context. As he notes,

“Menopause is a normal part of aging and is a natural transition that all females experience. It occurs when the ovaries stop producing eggs and the reproductive hormones decline. This marks the end of menstruation and fertility. For most, this begins between the ages of 40 and 55, and experiences vary greatly between individuals.

As the amount of oestrogen, a key chemical messenger, decreases, women are at a higher risk for a range of symptoms and conditions”. This includes anxiety and depression. The article follows on to say how physical exercise has shown positive effects for mitigating the negative effects of post-menopause. In particular, exercises such as balance exercising including yoga and tai chi have been successful in mitigating symptoms of menopause such as anxiety and depression.

If you’re interested in reading more about different aspects of women’s health, please see our recent selection of articles on the subject here.

How yoga affects mental health

Yoga is more beneficial than just a workout; it promotes mindfulness and has many beneficial effects on both the mind and the body. In addition, it has gained in popularity over the last decade and now has a wide variety of class options in a wide range of areas. Furthermore, as it’s a group activity it can encourage meeting new people and making new connections and friendships. Another blog article by Nathaniel Kelly goes into detail about the origins of yoga and all its benefits on mental health.

Nathaniel explains that “Yoga’s roots stretch back to ancient India, first being documented in the middle of the 1st millennium BCE. It is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which roughly translates to ‘union’ or ‘yoking’. This is thought by many to refer to a union between the body and mind—others would argue between oneself and a deity”.

He goes on to explain that “The blend of physical and mental exertion in yoga appears to have many positive effects on quality of life. It has been shown to be an effective intervention to treat depression, anxiety, and stress. It can also improve sleep as well as emotional regulation”.

Walking for exercise

Daily exercise can be hard to commit to when you have a full daily schedule. In addition, many people find it daunting and off-putting to exercise in a gym environment. A survey conducted by Better Gyms in the UK found that the majority of non-gym goers don’t have the time (38.1%). The next biggest population of non-gym goers said that they lacked confidence (22.2%). In the US, a survey conducted by American Council on Exercise (ACE) found similar results.

Because of this, walking can be a good alternative to working out at gym-style facilities. It has many benefits such as being achievable and manageable for a wide variety of lifestyles. In addition, it is a gentle form of exercise that is enjoyable and does not exert stress on joints but has range of health benefits. Furthermore, it’s flexible and can be easily incorporated into a busy schedule. In another blog article that focuses on using walking as a form of exercise, Jack Mckenna explains that

“Walking can be a good starting point for those able to do it, as it can boost your overall fitness and begin accustoming the body to movement and activity.”

An article in Urban Science investigated ‘green exercise’, the theory that nature may amplify the benefits of exercise. To do so, they measured walkers in both a forest and an urban area.

Interestingly, they found that both walking interventions improved mood and reduced physiological stress. This highlights how walking benefits both mind and body.

Moreover, the authors found that walking in nature conferred additional benefits to the participants’ feelings. It led to further improvements in their general mood and lowered scores for depression and confusion.

Sleep and mental health

Promoting exercise and movement is very important for maintaining and managing mental health. However, it can also help with sleep which ultimately impacts overall mood and mental-wellbeing.

“Sleep has a huge influence on our physical and mental health. Insufficient sleep is related to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, depression, diabetes, stress, and much more. Not only this but oversleeping has also been shown to negatively affect health or at least be a symptom of poor health” Nathaniel Kelly explains in his article how sleep impacts mental health.

He goes on to explain that “Despite it being ubiquitous across the animal kingdom, relatively little is known about the evolutionary purpose of sleep. We know it supports healthy brain functioning, as well as many other physiological processes, but nobody quite understands how or why the brain disconnects itself from its environment.

Often, it is difficult to say whether this deprivation is a symptom or the cause of some mental disorders. We do know, though, that a good night’s rest significantly improves our general outlook and mood, and in the long term can have hugely beneficial effects on our mental-wellbeing. So, it should be a top priority for everyone, but especially those experiencing poor mental health.”

“One MDPI study found a significant positive effect of physical exercise – such as walking, cycling, and yoga – on sleep quality and efficiency. It is well-known that exercise reduces the time it takes to fall asleep, a significant component of sleep insufficiency”.


Regular movement and exercise throughout the day is extremely important for both physical and mental-wellbeing. As the prevalence of mental illness continues to increase, it’s important to incorporate daily walks and other forms of exercise into our routines.

If you’re interested in reading more about mental health, please see our article on help seeking behaviour: stigma around mental health.