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Moving your mental health forward

We know being active is great for your physical health, but when your body feels good your mind does too.

Yetunde Bankole, Lead Mental Health and Wellbeing Coach at Vitality explains that’s why this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week focussed on movement, and the power it has to strengthen and improve your mental health.

At Vitality, we know that people who were active at least two days a week were 17% less likely to make a severe mental health claim on their health insurance, and we also know that when it comes to the world of work, mental health issues have the biggest negative impact on productivity. Those at risk of depression, fatigue and burnout lose 151%, 141% and 120% more productive days compared to those who do not report these health issues**.

All of which shows just how important it is for our wider health and shouldn’t be treated in isolation. We need to look at mental health more holistically and consider how it impacts our physical health as well as our lives at work and at home.

Yet, finding the time to be more active when you’re balancing a busy work and home life can be difficult, but getting started and building healthy habits doesn’t need to be an arduous journey and there are several steps that will help you easily build more movement into your life.

The connection between movement and mental health

Before looking at the simple ways to increase movement in your life, it’s key to understand just how big an impact it can have on your body and mind.

By incorporating greater activity and movement in your life, you can help to strengthen your muscles, bones, heart, and lungs. Which means that physically, you are making yourself stronger should you get ill.

When we exercise our bodies release dopamine and endorphins which have been proven to help a variety of conditions like depression and anxiety. It can even help improve your quality of sleep meaning you’ll feel more rested and ready to tackle the day. Highlighting why physical activity is a key tool in managing mental wellbeing, giving your mind and body the energy boost it needs to get you through the day with greater vigour and drive.

How to get started

Knowing where to start can feel daunting, and even impossible when you’re balancing a busy work schedule on top of a busy personal life. However, the main thing to remember is the best activity, is the next activity.

A little activity can go a long way, and it’s important to note you don’t need to be running a marathon on the weekend to feel the positive effects.

In fact, data based on Habit Index research conducted by Vitality and the London School of Economics found that taking just 7,500 steps three or more times a week could have profound effects on your overall health, with those aged 65 and over able to reduce their yearly mortality risk by 52%.

As such, find something you like doing and carve out small times throughout the week to do it; whether that’s yoga, swimming, going for a walk at lunch with a colleague, or even dancing to your favourite song.

As long as you’re moving regularly, you’ll start to enjoy the many mental benefits such as reduced stress and mental fatigue, and increased focus and energy.

Overcoming the motivation block

If you want to get moving more but struggle to find the motivation or feel as though your current mental health is leaving you feeling unenergized, then start small and build on it gradually. Take a screen break by going for a 10-minute walk outside or around the house or take the stairs at the office instead of the lift.

Equally, if doing it alone holds you back then try going for a regular walk with a colleague or looking at what health benefits your employer offers. Many employers offer health-based interventions like group yoga classes or employee run clubs. These are all easy and helpful ways to meet like-minded people and build a group that gives you support, encouragement and guidance on your journey.

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Moving your mental health forward