What’s the connection between movement and mental health?


May 13, 2024


It’s easy to overlook the connection between our minds and bodies. Yet, this relationship is undeniably intricate, with each influencing the other in both subtle and obvious ways. In recent years, there has been an increase in research and discussion into how our physical activity levels can profoundly impact our psychological wellbeing, and vice versa.

When we are in a healthy mental state – when we are happy and content, and managing stress well – we tend to be more motivated to engage in physical activity. This, combined with the enhanced cognitive function and higher levels of energy that often come with good mental wellbeing, makes it easier to engage in and maintain physical activity over time.

When we move our bodies, a cascade of physiological changes occur, releasing endorphins, neurotransmitters, and other mood-boosting chemicals in the brain. These natural ‘feel-good’ substances not only alleviate stress and anxiety but can also elevate mood and enhance overall resilience to whatever life throws at us. Many forms of physical activity involve social interaction and connection with others, such as team sports, group fitness classes or outdoor activities with friends and family, which also helps improve mental wellbeing.

So, what happens when we are managing higher levels of stress and the idea of being active feels like an uphill struggle? When we are under increased stress our brain subconsciously protects us, leading to avoiding movement and activity to conserve energy. This can result in feelings of lethargy and lack of motivation to move.

Furthermore, the absence of physical activity can worsen existing mental health issues, creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to break. Sedentary lifestyles have been linked to increased feelings of depression and anxiety, further compounding the challenges faced by individuals already grappling with these conditions. The key is to find an activity or form of movement that you enjoy, and which can be incorporated into your daily routine so that it’s easier to maintain some form of movement at times of increased levels of stress.

Even when we are struggling, it’s crucial to prioritise movement in some form, even if it is as simple as going for a walk. The benefits of physical activity are well known, but the reality is that there will be days when we lack motivation. By being self-aware of the intricate relationship between our mind and body, we can harness the transformative power of physical activity to cultivate resilience and improve mental wellbeing.