How does physical activity have a positive impact on mental health?

The stigma of mental health is finally beginning to break down, and more and more people are talking about their experiences and how it has affected their lives. And by people doing so, it is having a domino effect where people are beginning to realise that it is okay to talk about it. However, that doesn’t mean that we should stop doing everything we can to make the people that do struggle, feel like they have the support they need.

How does sport and exercise help?

There are many different reasons why someone may take part in a sport, or exercise on a regular basis, and not just they want to lose weight, or gain muscle, or to look good to other people; physical activity is also used to give someone a sense of wellbeing. People become happier in themselves, they become more motivated and it may even give them a more positive outlook on life and their own future.

Evidence that sport has had a positive impact on someone, comes from Joy Davidson who began playing Netball for her university team in September last year.

“Sport has definitely helped me with my down days. It’s a time where I can forget about any worries I have and focus on the moment whilst exercising. As well as keeping fit, playing netball has allowed me to come out of my shell and interact with others and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without Netball.”

Not only does physical activity help you grow mentally, but the social side to sport and exercise can also help you become more socially mature and give you a  better chance to create relationships and friendships with other people.

Physical Activity also plays a big part in the management of many mental health diseases, especially anxiety and depression. It has been said that sport and exercise is becoming an important treatment alternative for someone’s mental wellbeing, due to the inconsistent treatment of these people using other options like medication and therapy.

Jemma Coales is another student who is also involved in more than one team sport for her university. She was diagnosed with Mixed Anxiety and Depressive Disorder when she was only 15 and last year was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Jemma on the sidelines of her university Varsity netball match.
Tia Victoria Photography


“I play cricket and netball, I train at university three times a week and I have matches once a week and tend to find myself down the gym doing a workout  or swimming at least twice a week.”

I went on to ask her how sport makes her feel, and what impact does it have on her everyday mood in general.

“Just exercising in general raises serotonin levels, and gives me the feel good factor, so when I’m in a group with my friends training together, I never feel feelings of loneliness or negative thoughts, just positivity positivity positivity.

Shall we hear from some professionals?

Personal trainers, sports coaches, P.E teachers; they are all people that are on, what I’m going to call for this, the frontline when it comes to sport. They are the once that are enforcing and teaching exercise.

I spoke to Jemma Veness, who is a Personal Trainer, Fitness and Studio Instructor. I asked her about a time she could recall where, with her help along with a training programme, helped a women improve her life.

Jemma Veness hard at work in the gym.

“There was a 62 year old women who had put on more weight than she would have liked and it was starting to put pressure and sprain on her hips.

We worked on a 12 week programme with two goals: reduce stomach fat and to strengthen the muscles supporting the hips. “

Jemma went on to tell me that after the programme she began to find everyday jobs much easier and she was under a lot less pain. After this she became a regular gym goer.

Even though this women’s aim wasn’t to improve her mental wellbeing specifically, this 12 week programme probably still had a positive impact on that anyway. If her everyday tasks were becoming difficult and she was in pain, I can’t imagine her being very happy. So by solving the main problem, many other issues along side it were solved too.

I also spoke to lover of sports and netball, rounders and lacrosse coach Liliane Widdows. Not only does she have a passion for coaching team sports but she also does a lot of sport herself.

“In my spare time I play netball 2 or 3 times a week . I have a young horse and I train him 2 or 3 times a week and have regular lessons and I like to compete at horse shows.”

Liliane on her horse at one of her horse shows.

I also asked Liliane if she has ever felt like she has had a positive impact on someone’s sense of wellbeing. And of course, like any successful coach she had one to tell.

“I love seeing my ladies returning to netball, often they have had babies and have perhaps lost their confidence or their identity and have become very body conscious. During our sessions we laugh a lot and have great fun this helps them feel part of the group and make new friends . I enjoy watching the transformation in them when they finally regain their confidence.”

Liliane and one of her university teams at their Varsity game.


Do you MIND?

MIND is one of the top mental health charities and their website is filled with information about everything mental health.

They also have heaps of it, on what physical activity can do to improve your mental wellbeing. It gives you advice on different exercises or activities are best for you as an individual. There are different activities for when you are short on time, ones to do with your family and also ones you can enjoy by yourself.

There is also another section on their website that allows you to buy a course, which is funded by Sport England, in order to get on the right track to bettering yourself. For more information on this course you can visit their website by clicking this link:

MIND charity logo

To round up, there is plenty of first hand evidence that sport and exercise can help manage many mental health diseases. Of course, mental health is something that can never fully cured, but we can do things to manage it and make it easier and not let it ruin our lives.

“Physical activity is a great way to socialise, feel better about yourself and give you motivating goals to work towards. You shouldn’t feel nervous no one is there to judge you just support you and help better yourself!”