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Physical activity and


mental health


HOW DOES PHYSICAL ACTIVITY HELP? n Research shows that being physically active encourages mental health.


n Physical activity can give you a sense of achievement, improve your self-esteem and help you to meet people.


n There is research to suggest that exercise has a positive effect on certain biochemicals that affect our mood and how we feel and exercise can sometimes be as effective as medication in treating anxiety or depression.


n It also gives you a good opportunity to meet people. n Physical activity also helps improve your overall health by reducing important factors in heart disease such as high blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and the risk of having a stroke.


n Physical activity, along with a healthy diet, helps reduce stress and improves your overall feeling of wellbeing and quality of life, and helps you to sleep well.


n It also reduces the risk of bowel cancer, osteoporosis and the risk of falling.


STAYING SAFE n Be sensible and do not walk in poorly lit and quiet areas. Wear reflective clothes after dark.


n Wear supportive footwear and loose-fitting, comfortable clothes (it does not have to be a tracksuit).


n If you are taking medication then it is important that you speak to a health professional about whether this will affect you when you exercise and if so, how.


WHAT TYPE OF ACTIVITY IS BEST?


While stamina-based activity is particularly important for health, you also need to include some strength and flexibility-based activity to get the best health gains. Stamina-type activities: Walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, tennis and housework (washing floors or windows) Strength-type activities: Walking uphill, carrying shopping, climbing stairs, gardening (digging or mowing) and housework. Flexibility-type activities: Dancing, yoga, T’ai Chi, Pilates and gardening.


Tips on increasing your activity level n Walking is an ideal activity as it’s free and easy to do anywhere. Perhaps take a dog for a walk to make it more interesting or use a pedometer to count your steps.


n Look for opportunities to be active during your whole day. For example park at the far end of the car park, or walk one stop further to catch the bus, and take 10 minutes out of your lunch break to go for a walk.


n Try using the stairs instead of the escalator. If you do use the escalator start by walking part of the way up and progress to walking up the whole way.


n Choose activities that you enjoy doing. Involve your friends and family to make your activities fun, sociable and enjoyable.


n The important thing is to enjoy your activity, don’t let anyone else tell you what you should be doing, pick the activities you like most.


n Try and set yourself realistic goals and keep a note in your diary of how often you exercise and for how long. Reward yourself when you do well or achieve certain goals for example for exercising a certain number of times per week.


n Focus on the positives and remind yourself about all the benefits you can experience.


If you get any of the following problems, get medical advice from your GP or by contacting NHS Direct (see box below): n Discomfort in your chest or upper body n Uncomfortable or severe breathlessness brought on by physical activity


n Dizziness or nausea on exertion n Fainting during or just after doing physical activity n Palpitations (a very fast or irregular heart beat) during activity.


FOR MORE INFORMATION


n Mind - the mental health charity 0845 766 0163 or www.mind.org.uk


n BBC Online Health www.bbc.co.uk/health/conditions/ depression.shtml n NHS Direct 0845 4647 or www.nhsdirect.co.uk


HOW MUCH AND HOW OFTEN?


Frequency Your main aim is to build up to 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on 5 or more days of the week. If this seems too much to start with, try starting with 3 x 10 minute walks spread throughout the day and work towards 2 x 15 minute walks and then 30 continuous minutes. One goal is to try and increase your activity by 2 minutes each day.


Intensity Moderate intensity means breathing harder and getting warmer than normal. It does not need to be hard. You should be able to talk and be active at the same time.


Advice Whatever your chosen activity, it should be performed at a gentle intensity which gradually increases until after about 10 minutes you have reached the level you can maintain for your chosen period of activity. This gets the blood flowing to your muscles and allows your heart rate to increase gradually. When you are nearing the end of your activity you should also slowly decrease the level of activity over 5-10 minutes to allow your heart rate to slow down gradually.


Remember Set yourself realistic goals and don’t worry if you miss one day. Just make sure that the next day you pick up where you left off.


The information contained in this article is intended as general guidance and information only and should not be relied upon as a basis for planning individual medical care or as a substitute for specialist medical advice in each individual case. To the extent permissible by law, the publisher, editors and contributors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage howsoever incurred (including negligence) as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use by any person of the contents of this article.


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