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  • Writer's pictureAlexander James

Movement Is The Theme For Mental Health Awareness Week 2024

May 13-19 is Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year the theme is ‘movement.’  According to the Mental Health Foundation, studies show that people who engage in regular physical activity have a 20 to 30 per cent lower risk of depression and dementia, and it may reduce the risk of cognitive decline in people without dementia. 

Of course, exercise alone won’t work for everybody, but it can be used as part of a holistic approach to mental healthcare, alongside other methods such as hypnotherapy or medication. So what is it about simply moving that can have such a transformative effect on our mood, and how much do we need to do to make a difference?

When we move, our brains release feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, and our levels of serotonin rise. This can boost our mood and levels of mental alertness, enabling us to see life in a more positive light. The heart works harder to pump extra blood and oxygen around the body, including the brain, which increases concentration and promotes mental clarity. 

This can help us to put problems into perspective and think about alternative ways of tackling a difficult issue or life stage we are facing. It can at least take our mind off worries and anxieties for a while or act as an outlet for emotions such as anger and frustration, disrupting negative thought cycles. 

Movement can also physically relax the body by reducing muscle tension, which in turn promotes mental relaxation.  It can also contribute to a more sociable lifestyle if you choose to exercise with others, because it gets you out to see friends or meet new people. Strengthening social bonds is good for our sense of wellbeing and self esteem.

Exercise can also promote better sleep, which in turn improves our energy levels, mental focus and mood. Unfortunately, depression can take away our drive to exercise, or even to move at all unless absolutely necessary. 

Therefore, the thought of attempting the UK government’s recommended levels of weekly exercise of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week, spread evenly over most days or every day, can seem too intimidating. However, any level of activity is better than none. 

Even small steps can add up to a big difference over time, especially if you pick activities that you genuinely enjoy and feel able to do on a regular basis. If you are a sociable person who feels energised by spending time with others, then you may enjoy a walking group or dance classes. 

If you recharge your batteries by spending time alone, then you may prefer swimming, cycling, or just gardening or housework. The key is to set realistic goals to reduce the amount of time that you spend sitting down. Treat yourself with kindness if you don’t always meet your goals, but allow yourself to celebrate your accomplishments. 

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