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Movement: Moving more for our mental health

Jul 6, 2024 | News | 0 comments

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2024, which is happening from 13 to 19 May, is “Movement: Moving more for our mental health”, highlighting the important connection between physical activity and mental well-being.

Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual event that has taken place in the United Kingdom since 2001, to raise awareness about mental health issues and promote better mental well-being. The event is organised and promoted by the Mental Health Foundation, a UK-based charity that focuses on preventing mental health problems.

What is mental health?

Mental health refers to our intellectual, developmental, and emotional well-being. A mental health illness, sometimes referred to as a disorder, can disrupt our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

The state of our psychological health has an impact on every part of how we live. It colours our emotional outlook; affects how we look after our physical health and needs; and has an influence on all our relationships – with loved ones, friends, and the people that we mix with at work or school.

Some of the most common illnesses include:

  • Depressive disorders – such as major and clinical depression, bi-polar, post-partum, and seasonal affective disorder.
  • Anxiety disorders – including generalised anxiety, panic, social, separation and agoraphobia.
  • Substance abuse and addiction (incl. drugs/alcohol/prescription medication).
  • Behavioural and compulsive addictions (such as sex/gambling).
  • Disorders – ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity), PTSD (post-traumatic stress) and OCD (obsessive-compulsive).
  • Eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating.
  • Schizophrenia.

There are many more, and all of them can range from being occasionally or mildly disruptive to a person’s life, through to having a serious daily impact; and can cause individuals to self-harm, abuse substances and attempt suicide.

Why movement is so important for mental health.

In today’s fast-paced world, where stress and anxiety seem to lurk around every corner, finding effective ways to maintain our mental well-being is crucial. While traditional methods like therapy and medication are vital for many, there is another powerful tool often overlooked: movement. Yes, something as simple as physical activity can have profound effects on our mental health.

  • Releases feel-good chemicals: Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, which are natural mood-boosters and can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression.

At its core, the relationship between movement and mental health is about chemistry. When we engage in physical activity, our bodies release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. These endorphins flood our brains, creating a sensation often referred to as the “runner’s high.” But you don’t have to be a marathon runner to experience this; even a brisk walk around the block can trigger the release of these feel-good chemicals.

Beyond endorphins, movement also reduces levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are notorious for wreaking havoc on our mental state, contributing to feelings of anxiety and tension. By incorporating regular exercise into our routines, we can help keep these stress hormones in check, promoting a calmer, more balanced mind.

  • Improves cognitive function: Physical activity can enhance brain function, memory, and concentration, which can contribute to better mental well-being.

Exercise stimulates blood flow to the brain, delivering oxygen and nutrients essential for cognitive function. This can enhance concentration, memory, and overall cognitive performance. Physical activity promotes the growth of new neurons and strengthens neural connections in the brain, leading to improved learning and cognitive flexibility.

  • Reduces inflammation: Regular exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which has been linked to improved mental health and a lower risk of depression.

Regular exercise has been shown to decrease levels of pro-inflammatory markers in the body, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). By reducing chronic inflammation, exercise may help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Physical activity can enhance immune function, making the body more resilient to infections and reducing the risk of inflammatory-related diseases. Exercise plays a key role in weight management, and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce inflammation associated with obesity.

  • Provides a mental break: Physical activity can serve as a distraction from negative thoughts and worries, providing a mental break and helping to clear the mind.

The benefits of movement extend far beyond just chemical reactions. Physical activity provides an outlet for pent-up energy and emotions. How many times have you felt a weight lift off your shoulders after a good workout? Whether it is punching a bag at the gym or dancing around your living room, movement allows us to release tension and frustration in a healthy way.

  • Increases social connections: Many forms of exercise, such as team sports or group fitness classes, can foster social connections and combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Exercise can have a beneficial impact on social connection. Exercising with a friend or partner can enhance motivation and adherence to regular physical activity, fostering a sense of camaraderie and mutual support. Participating in group exercises or team sports provides opportunities for social interaction and connection with others who share similar interests. Joining community-based fitness classes, walking groups, or recreational sports leagues allows individuals to meet new people and expand their social network. This can lead to the formation of supportive relationships and a sense of belonging.

  • Improves sleep: Regular physical activity can help regulate sleep patterns and improve the quality of sleep, which is crucial for mental health.

Engaging in regular exercise can improve sleep quality, another critical factor in mental health. Sleep and mood are deeply interconnected, with poor sleep often exacerbating symptoms of anxiety and depression. By tiring out our bodies through movement, we’re more likely to achieve restful sleep, waking up refreshed and ready to tackle the day ahead.

  • Boosts self-esteem: Exercise can improve body image and self-confidence, leading to a more positive outlook and greater emotional resilience.

Perhaps most importantly, movement fosters a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Setting and achieving fitness goals—whether it’s running a certain distance, lifting a heavier weight, mastering a new yoga pose, or doing an extra 1000 steps per day—boosts self-esteem and confidence. These feelings of achievement ripple outwards, positively impacting other areas of our lives, including our mental well-being.

How can we incorporate more movement into our daily lives? The key is to find activities that you enjoy and that fit your lifestyle. It could be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, going for a bike ride with friends, or joining a dance class. The important thing is to make it sustainable and enjoyable, rather than viewing it as a chore.

Movement isn’t just about sculpting our bodies; it’s about nourishing our minds. By embracing physical activity as a fundamental component of our mental health regimen, we can unlock a world of benefits, from reduced stress and anxiety to improved mood and self-confidence.

Potential early warning signs of a mental health problem.

If you are worried that someone you love may be struggling with a mental health problem. Here are a few signs to look out for:

  • Changes in sleeping or eating. Having low or no energy, over or under eating.
  • Isolating from friends and family. Stopping favourite activities or hobbies.
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness or numbness, as if nothing matters.
  • Being on edge, fearful or worried.
  • Mood swings, angry and violent outbursts, excessive fighting with loved ones.
  • An increase in the use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Unexplained aches, and pains. Extreme confusion and forgetfulness.
  • Disturbing, repetitive, or intrusive thoughts.
  • Thoughts of, or talking about, self-harm and suicide.
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true.
  • An inability to deal with daily life or responsibilities such as looking after your family or attending work or school.

If you recognise one or more of these symptoms either in yourself or in someone you are close to, or if someone you love is acting erratically and out of character, then talk to them, ask them how they are feeling, try and start a conversation and if in doubt seek professional advice.

Mental health treatment clinic in Ibiza, Spain.

Mental health problems are more common than people think, but help is available. People can and do get better, and many recover completely. Treatment often involves therapy and medication, or a combination of the two.

At our mental health and addiction treatment clinic, we recognise the integral role that movement plays in promoting overall well-being. That is why we emphasise the importance of incorporating physical activity into our treatment programmes. Whether it is a swim in the clinic’s pool, daily fitness and yoga classes, or simply a gentle walk through the 13-hectare estate in (almost year-round) glorious sunshine.

We treat clients with mental health conditions including anxiety and depression, as well as alcoholism, addiction, and substance abuse. For information on all our residential programmes, and for admissions to our Spanish rehab centre, please contact