Sport, Exercise and Mental Health

Everybody knows that being physically active is good for our bodies, and that getting our blood pumping keeps our insides healthy too. But what some people underestimate is how closely linked our mental health is to our physical health.

Having mental health issues can raise the risk of physical health issues, those with mental health issues are twice as likely to die from heart disease and four times as likely to die from respiratory disease.

Those who struggle with their mental health need to particularly focus on fitting in physical activity as they are more likely to have a poor diet, smoke or drink excessively, or be overweight – which can also be a side effect of medication.

Doctors can now prescribe exercise to those struggling with depression and anxiety to help alleviate the symptoms. Along with helping to boost self-esteem which can be a core factor of both depression and anxiety.

One thing that has brought the idea of exercise and mental health to the forefront, is the release of Bella Mackie’s book – ‘Jog On; How Running Saved My Life”.

Bella is a writer and author, who started jogging to alleviate anxiety, and help her cope with the breakdown of her marriage.

She explains how at first she would go to a dark alley and struggle her way through 15 minutes of jogging, stopping, and walking.

She hated it, but it stopped her thinking about her marriage, her husband, and stopped her crying.

Bella continued to run and now has a best-selling book about it, and is one of the most well known advocates of using exercise to relieve symptoms of mental illness.

The great thing about this too, is that Bella is no super fitness instagram health freak.

She wrote a piece for GQ explaining a week of her fitness and nutrition; Bella eats ice cream mid-day, has a terrible sleeping pattern and eats out most days.

It’s refreshing to be getting what is essentially fitness advice from a non-fitness expert. Just someone who has struggled and has found a way to get through.

Of course, depression cannot be cured with a few laps around the park, but it can help to alleviate the symptoms for a short while because you have to think about something else, your breathing, pace, and just putting one foot in front of the other.

Taking a look at this topic from a completely different angle, is thinking about how taking care of mental wellbeing has a positive effect on sports performance.

In the World Cup 2018, the England team exceeded everyone’s expectations by reaching the semi-finals, and even winning a penalty shoot-out. The refreshing energy of the team can be placed with Pippa Grange, England’s sport psychologist.

Pippa aimed to create trust throughout the team, and trust between the team and manager Gareth Southgate.

Southgate himself played a big role in changing the team’s mindset, trying to encourage the idea that the World Cup wasn’t something to be fearful of, but an adventure, an opportunity.

She helped the team to bond, from having them sit and discuss their deepest anxieties, to having them play in a pool on inflatable unicorns.


Another thing Grange worked on, the results of which most noticeable in the tournament, was the team’s attitude to penalties.

England are infamous for losing penalty shoot-outs, so when the team faced one against Colombia, the country quietly lost hope. However, a cool, calm England prevailed, and won a penalty shoot-out for the first time in history.

It’s said the Grange worked to help change the team’s mindset towards them, seeing them as an opportunity rather than a threat, and from what we saw in the World Cup, it worked.

Andrew Richardson, President of Activities at Teesside University, discusses how sport has helped his own mental health and how mental health is looked after at Teesside.


It’s plain to see that sport and exercise have a positive effect on our mental wellbeing.

Whether struggling with mental illness or not, it’s a great way to clear the mind and make us feel good. For more information on how to get moving, visit the links below:


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