Exercise and Mental Wellbeing - #MentalHealthAwarenessDay

I’m here today to talk about exercise and the positive impact it can have on people’s wellbeing and mental health. There are lots of studies which have shown that doing physical activity can improve mental health. For example, it can help with:

·        Sleeping better – by making you feel more tired at the end of the day

·        Feeling happier – physical activity releases feel-good hormones that make you feel better in yourself and give you more energy

·        Managing stress & anxiety – being physically active gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy for difficult times

·        Better self-esteem – being more active can make you feel better about yourself as you improve and meet your goals

·        Reducing the risk of depression – studies have shown that doing regular physical activity can reduce the likelihood of experiencing a period of depression

·        Connecting with people – doing group or team activities can help you meet new and like-minded people and make new friends.

Some of the OTR team have written about what they do to be active and feel good.

Charlie – Participation Development Worker     

After a stressful week at work I like to explore different places in the UK. I have an app on my phone that is always telling me off for not achieving my 10,000 steps a day, so I use the weekend to try and make up for this! I google different destinations to visit and set off. My favourite places to wonder around are castles, Glastonbury Tor and different woods. I find that being outside makes me feel calmer and I can breathe in the fresh air and let some of my worries go. You never know what you will find, this tyre swing was an added bonus.

Clare – SEND Advocate & Participation Development Worker

I like to walk my dogs in the mornings as it helps to clear my head and prepare for the day ahead, I spend lots of time outdoors busying about, the fresh air and open spaces make me feel more relaxed and have a positive impact on my mental health.

Harriet R - LGBT+ Service Lead

For me, sport (which now takes the form of rugby, for Bath Rugby Ladies) but I have played netball in the past and go to classes, gym, swim etc. Sport and physical activity is so powerful in a number of ways.

For this blog, I am linking the benefits of sport to the 5 ways to wellbeing and highlight the benefits!

1.      Take Notice - Through sport I have been able to feel positive about my body and what it can do. I love that rugby encourages me to get outside and notice and appreciate nature, the seasons change, the amazing moon, the grass and even the MUD!  

2.      Connect- a team sport creates a great social connection and team spirit and encouragement and community to be part of and proud of #rugbyfamily!

3.      Be active – to feel good, being in your body and physically active takes you out of your mind and thoughts and releases endorphins (I call these head dolphins!) which lift your mood and energy levels. How?... well, that's easy this includes running, tackling and additional training and gym sessions to stay match fit - I try to make these fun and varied including trampolining and yoga to mix up cardio and flexibility and recovery, take a friend to make it a social event too!

4.      Keep Learning- whether through swapping sports or mastering a new technique or skill this can happen by trying something new - I recently became a level 2 coach and learnt to jump in the lineouts after nearly 4 years of playing and it was SO much fun, if not a little scary, but I was so proud when I did it! 

5.      Give- find fulfilment in helping others, whether this is helping a newbie learn how to pass or making a big tackle to help the team out, this is massive part of my rugby life. I have taken up a volunteer coaching role with mixed ability ladies team which is such a lot of fun, it really boosts my mood every Thursday! 

You never know what else taking part in sport or physical activity will bring, from friends to learning new skills. Go on give something new a try!


Harriet B – Advocacy Development Worker

I never used to do much exercise as I couldn’t find anything I enjoyed. I started going to the gym a few years ago but didn’t know what to do when I was there and felt really self-conscious. Then I gave a group weightlifting class a go and absolutely loved it. This made me join my local Crossfit gym and I wish I had found it sooner!

It helps me:

Feel strong – Crossfit has shown me that I am physically and mentally stronger than I thought, and it feels great to learn a new skill and achieve my goals. Exercise can be a great way to achieve things you didn’t think you could which hopefully leaves you feeling empowered and proud of yourself.

Feel confident – Since starting to exercise I have learnt to appreciate my body for what it can do rather than being worried about what it looks like.

Be part of a community – Crossfit has given me a community of people to work out with and it’s great to support each other and feel encouraged by other members of the gym. Exercising on your own can feel scary so finding a community or friend to do it with is a great way to motivate yourself and connect with others.

Clear my head – Sometimes I have lots of things going around in my head but exercising always allows me to let out some energy and clear my head. Even if I just go for a walk, I come home feeling my mind is clearer and I’m more relaxed.

Sleep – I used to really struggle to sleep well but since starting to exercise regularly I sleep really well and feel more awake in the mornings which allows me to be more productive during the day.


Jayme – Student Placement LGBT+ Worker

Exercise has always been a funny one for me - I've never been the kind of 'get up and go' person who can make it to the gym for 7am and run on a treadmill for however long. I think those people are great, but it took a while for me to realise that going to the gym is just one of many ways you can exercise. I've also had to frame exercise as something that can improve my mental wellbeing, rather than as an effort to try and change how I look. That's why I have really enjoyed doing Yogalates since starting at Off the Record - there's no pressure for me to do everything perfectly, and at the end we do a mini meditation where we all lie down and clear our heads. This has been so helpful for picking my mood up mid-week - everything can get so busy and stressful, and as people, I feel like we're constantly anticipating what's about to happen next, and meditation and yoga is perfect for reminding us to live in the moment and appreciate what's going on around us.

It's also a great confidence builder when you can feel yourself getting stronger and more flexible as the weeks go on, and you find yourself being able to do poses you never thought you would have been able to do. It's a small reminder that you can often do more than what you expect, and that does wonders for mental wellbeing in general. Now I go home and try to set aside a few times a week to watch an exercise tutorial on YouTube that I can follow along at home - I don't have to be worried about not having the fanciest gym kit, I just do what I can, when I can, and knowing I'm doing what I can to look after my body is good for my mental health too. 


Jane – Advocate & Youth Voice

Exercise is really important to me to reduce levels of stress and maintain my mental health. I do regular body conditioning and Zumba classes at Bath sports and Leisure centre which I find really good for relieving tension in my neck and shoulders, and I and also play netball on a Wednesday night. The netball is part of the ‘Back to Netball’ movement which aims to get women who perhaps played netball at school to start playing the game again. We are a wide range of ages and abilities and its really good fun. I think playing a team sport adds an extra dimension in terms of wellbeing and mental health. It’s great cardiovascular exercise but sociable too. We laugh a lot and I always leave the session feeling de-stressed and invigorated! We are always looking for new members so come along on a Wednesday night at Ralph Allen school at 7pm!

Lindsay – Listening Services Administrator

So I like trail running because:

·        I like being able to run as far as I can see

·        It makes me feel physically strong and resilient

·        I have to storm through all kinds of weather & it makes he happy to be outdoors

·        It’s a guaranteed mood changer



Nat – LGBT+ Development Worker

I guess I never really knew or noticed how much sport meant to me until I didn’t do it. I was 4 months pregnant (and visibly so) and had to stop running around chasing a hard ball, with a large stick (yes, I’m aware that makes me sound a bit like a dog?!). It was the first time in over 20 years that I hadn’t dedicated/sacrificed/lost (depending on your opinion - I choose dedicated) almost every day of the week, to sport in some way. (I could go into a list of sports, the reasons why and the transferable ’skills for life' gained but I’m conscious that would be moving into a novel rather than a blog post!)

Don’t get me wrong, I had bigger and better priorities being pregnant and all but it wasn’t until Baby R was 4 weeks old (all having gone well and continuing so), when my mum asked me ’When are you going back to hockey?’, did I realise it’s importance 😄 Mum has a tactile way with words luckily 😉 but now being aware of its impact on both my physical and mental health, this has helped in the ‘remembering to look after myself’ part of life! Quite simply, if I’m feeling miserable, I need to move more!

So, when asked to write a blog for World Mental Health Day about sport and my mental health, it led to me reflecting on my long-standing relationship (seems fitting to call it so) with sport and the importance of it within my identity. It took quite a while to sift through many a memory (mostly factual 😂) and seems fitting that as I write this, I’m watching World Athletics Champs on the screen. Sport is my happy place, my go-to, my comfort blanket. Yes, the competitive element obviously has some appeal to me but that isn’t the only thing. I don’t do it to be the best, regardless of not having all the required skills and talents to do so – although some ex-teammates are representing national veteran teams now, so I’m holding out for my international cap 😆

I think my key message would be there’s not much better than doing something* you love/enjoy/appreciate (whatever language suits you), makes you happy and clears the head. In a busy world, it’s important to take time for fun 🎉🙌

*And I know doing something feels hard to do, it’s ok to be kind to yourself. When it feels right, do it then and do it well 😊

If you feel like you are struggling with your mental health and need some support and advice, fill out a self-referral form to us here