Working together, improving lives

May 2024

Movement for Mental Health: Mental Health Awareness Week 2024

This week (May 13th to 19th) is Mental Health Awareness Week, and an opportunity for us to take a step back from our busy lives and focus on finding new ways to better our mental health and wellbeing. With this year’s theme “Moving more for our mental health” we’ll be exploring the significance between physical health and mental health, delving deeper into why movement is so important and how we can more easily and successfully integrate it into our busy daily routines as healthcare professionals.

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Why is being active a good thing?

Being physically active is an important part of human function and can greatly benefit us in many ways. Working in healthcare, you'll likely be all too familiar with exercise as you cater to the needs of others through supporting them. A recent study found that the majority of UK Nurses will walk as much as a third of a mile for every hour on shift, that's 4 miles for a typical 12 hour shift! It's important to acknowledge that not all exercise is the same, however, the vast majority does have a significant impact on our brains mental wellbeing, despite however physically drained we might be feeling. Research also consistently highlights the positive correlations between those who engage in physical activity on a regular basis with stronger, happier mental well-being. Engaging in movement regularly helps to promote relaxation when we’re idle, enhance cognitive function making it easier to process information, carry-out tasks and hold onto precious memories, as well as fostering better sleep patterns, all of which are crucial for maintaining good mental wellness.

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Breaking down fitness barriers

Whether you’re busy juggling a work-life balance, you lack focus during exercise or your mobility is in some way limited, there are many reasons that make doing exercise on a daily occasion difficult, but it’s often easy to forget that fitness can be carried out in as little as 30 minutes, with lots of unique and exciting activities and often, with little resources required, all whilst positively impacting our mind and body. Let’s explore some of these barriers.

I don’t have time

  • Taking part in fitness doesn’t necessarily mean we need to dedicate an hour of our day in one sitting to reap health benefits. As a healthcare professional, consider what you do each day and how you can alternate or swap what you’re currently doing or find ways to incorporate exercise into ten minute chunks throughout the day. For example, taking a phone call? Consider a short stroll at the same time. Parking to work? Park a few blocks away from the building and - if the weather's nice - relish in a brief stroll. It’s these small moments of physical exertion that unknowingly create a habit and in no time, the benefits become clear.

I don’t have anybody to exercise with

  • Exercise can be an incredibly fun social activity and often it requires inspiration and insight for somebody else to take it up. Consider starting your fitness alone, it’ll provide you with a sense of confidence and empowerment with which you can then inspire close colleagues and friends to join you. This becomes a double health benefit, not only are you improving your physical health but research shows the social aspect of performing fitness with someone can significantly improve mood, performance, motivation and feelings of boredom. Social media can be a good place to join local groups, or if you're working in a healthcare facility, why not create one with those you work with!

I don’t have equipment

  • The best thing about fitness and exercise, regardless of your goal, is the ability to do it virtually anywhere and with anything! If you think pumping weights could help relieve angst and stress, consider using kitchen cupboards essentials like tins and jars, instead of affording a pricey set of barbells. If you’re looking to take part in classes, but don’t want the hefty price tag, utilise the modern world we live in and follow along to a YouTube fitness class. There are an estimated 80,000 dedicated fitness channels on the site, so you’ll be sure to find something that fits for you.

I don’t feel ready

  • Feeling unsure or unprepared is the biggest challenge getting in the way of taking up a new exercise or fitness regime and that’s okay! Work commitments can make it difficult to want to commit to something big like this, take into account your physicality and what it is your body is capable of. Consider goal-setting before starting, be it wanting to take part in a marathon, or simply alleviating stress and frustrations. Research beforehand too, simply hearing about the positive impact that fitness has towards mental health can be enough to inspire you, and remember, it can all be done in environments safe and suitable to you and your needs.
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The correlations between mind and body

In the United States, the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study of more than 1.2 million adults with the aim of finding a correlation between mind and body. The study found that the average person experiences 3.4 poor mental health days per month (defined as impacting their ability to perform tasks, socialise and unwind). This compared with a 40% decrease in those who took part in exercise at least three times a week. It suggests that exercise may directly impact and change the way the brain functions. In other studies, UKActive also discovered that 78% of new gym-goers said physical exercise improved their mental health and wellbeing and 75% said it improved their overall confidence too. So how exactly does this work?

The act of performing exercise releases endorphins into our blood stream. Endorphins are our bodies ‘happy’ chemical and are associated with feelings of pleasure, euphoria and joy. There are more than 20 types of bodily endorphins – some stronger than morphine - and as our endorphin levels increase, the symptoms of pain, stress and depression reduce. Endorphins also have the ability to reduce cortisol in our body – this is like our bodies ‘stress’ chemical. When we’re too stressed, the increased levels of cortisol in our body can lead to health implications, so a balance between both chemicals is incredibly important in maintaining good physical and mental health.

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In conclusion

Mental Health Awareness Week serves as a poignant reminder of the intrinsic link between our levels of physical activity and our state of mental wellbeing. This year’s theme ‘moving more for our mental health’ underlines the scale at which healthcare professionals perform fitness in their daily tasks, whilst highlighting the impact fitness outside of our working environments can have on benefitting our overall wellness.

Looking into some of the in-depth studies and research, and by examining the barriers to exercise and exploring practical solutions in starting to break them, we can pave the way for a healthier mind and body. As we navigate the complexities of modern life, let’s take small steps towards a more active lifestyle which can lead to greater happiness and emotional resilience. This Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s commit to moving more, not only for our bodies, but for our minds too!