Physical Activity, Sport

and Mental Health

Why Does Being Active Matter

We all know that being physically active is good for our bodies. But our physical health and mental health are closely linked – so physical activity can be very beneficial for our mental health and wellbeing too.

Lots of us don't get enough exercise to stay healthy, but physical activity is particularly important if you have a mental health problem. This is because people with mental health problems are more likely to have a poor diet, smoke or drink too much alcohol, or be overweight/obese (this can be a side effect of taking medication).

So if you have a mental health problem, the health benefits of becoming more physically active are even more significant.

What Does Being Physically Active Mean

We all have different reasons for being active. The types of activity we do usually fall under these headings:

Physical activity. This can describe anything we do that involves moving our bodies

Exercise. Any physical activity could be considered exercise, but when we talk about doing exercise we usually mean activities we do deliberately for fitness or training, rather than something that's part of our daily routine

Sport. Sport usually refers to physical activities we do on our own or in a team for competition or fun. People working in the sport and leisure industries use the word in its broadest sense, including activities such as tennis, athletics, swimming, keep-fit or Zumba classes. Some sports such as snooker or darts are more about skill than any physical exertion

What Are the Health Benefits of Physical Activity?

Physical activity has a wide range of health benefits – for your mind and body, and for your social and emotional wellbeing.

Physical health benefits

As well as improving your overall physical fitness, being more active can have the following physical benefits:

  • Reduced risk of some diseases. For example, health experts suggest that being more active can reduce your risk of developing a stroke or heart disease by 10%, and type 2 diabetes by 30–40%
  • Reduced risk of physical health problems as our bodies adapt to stress. As we become fitter, our bodies can better regulate our cortisol levels. Cortisol is a ‘stress hormone’ that our bodies release in response to anxiety; over prolonged periods, higher cortisol levels have been linked to a wide range of health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, a lowered immune response, as well as depression and anxiety
  • Healthier organs. When you're active your body is working more, which is good for your organs. For example, a stronger heart will help you have lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure
  • Healthier bones. Weight-bearing exercises will strengthen your bones and build your muscle, which can reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis
  • Healthier weight. If you're overweight, becoming more active can help you start to reduce body fat as your stamina and fitness levels improve
  • More energy. As your body adapts to increased activity levels you get a natural energy boost, which can make you feel less tired. Researchers say that even low intensity levels of activity can be beneficial if you usually feel very fatigued
  • Improved sleep. Many people find they are able to sleep better at night after having been more active during the day
Cycling helped me lose weight and I feel better about myself. But after being active for a few days I need a good sleep. That's important too!
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