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Movement and Mental Health: An Insight

Updated: 4 days ago



The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, orchestrated by the Mental Health Foundation, is “Movement: Moving More for our Mental Health”. Movement, which includes physical activity and exercise, is a vital component of self-care. It has the potential to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. Given the interconnectedness of our body and mind, caring for the former positively impacts the latter. Research indicates that any form of physical activity can induce chemical changes in the brain, enhancing mood, stress management, sleep, and overall health. Interestingly, diverse types of movement can temper our ‘fight or flight’ response and significantly reduce cortisol levels. 


The Mental Health Foundation advocates movement as a key strategy to combat mental health stigma and raise awareness. It suggests several tips such as engaging in small activities during waiting periods, setting achievable goals, maintaining movement journals, finding joy in movement, and exploring physical activity in natural spaces. However, access to movement is not a universal privilege. 


Socioeconomic factors profoundly influence people’s ability to access space, equipment, and time for movement. Infrastructure may not be affordable or accessible to everyone. This disparity is particularly stark among BME communities. Factors such as cultural and linguistic barriers, lack of motivation and self-confidence, demanding jobs, lack of affordable childcare, inadequate infrastructure, and absence of culturally sensitive information contribute to this disparity. 


Nearly 40% of BME individuals reside in England’s most green space-deprived areas, further restricting their access to free movement. The scarcity of green public spaces contradicts the Mental Health Foundation’s objective of fostering community building, active lifestyles in recreational spaces, and promoting social cohesion to enhance motivation and self-confidence. 


The dearth of green spaces predominantly affects adolescents and children. Mental health is a crucial aspect of adolescent development. Neglecting adolescent mental health conditions can have repercussions extending into adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling adult lives. Studies have shown that physical activity and exercise can significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and depression among children and teenagers, due to its health benefits and its role in fostering social interactions, building team spirit, and providing support systems. 


In an effort to address this disparity, the UK government, as part of the Environment Improvement Plan, has set a goal that no one should live more than a 15-minute walk from a green space. This plan offers multiple benefits, including promoting biodiversity, providing green and free recreational spaces for children, and making movement accessible for disabled individuals. While this is a commendable initiative, there is still a long journey ahead before the goals are achieved. There is a need for sustained efforts in promoting movement as a crucial aspect of mental health care. However, these efforts will be in vain without significant steps to ensure movement is accessible to all. 


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