Be Active (5 Ways to Wellbeing)

We’re often told that having an active lifestyle is good for our bodies and physical health. Those who exercise regularly are less likely to develop a range of major illness such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer and are much less likely to be overweight. All of these things mean that having an active lifestyle can lower our risk of early death by up to 30%. Physical activity is undoubtedly good for our physical health, but the importance of physical activity and how it supports good mental health, and our wellbeing more generally, is less often spoken about. However, evidence shows that being more active can be an effective tool for us to use in order to self-manage our mental health problems and improve our general sense of wellbeing.
What does it mean to ‘be active’?

Being active means anything that we do in our daily lives that involves moving our bodies, such as lifting objects, walking from one place to the next or climbing the stairs. For many of us, modern life means that we don’t move around as much as we would have done in past times. We now have computers and machines that do a lot of the work that we used to have to do with our bodies; we have cars that take us from one place to the next; we have escalators and lifts that take us from one floor to the next. We have created many tools that make our lives easier – but the downside to this is that many of us aren’t being physically active enough, and this impact’s on our physical and mental wellbeing.

Many people find that, in order to be active enough, they need to make a special effort to exercise – doing activities for fitness purposes rather than something that’s just a normal part of daily routine. This means taking the time to do exercise in your week, and can involve doing things like going for a walk or run, doing yoga, or taking an exercise class like Zumba or Spinning. For others, playing sports like badminton, football, rugby and cricket are fun and enjoyable ways to make physical activity a part of daily life. If we are experiencing a difficult time, it can be hard to motivate ourselves to do exercise. However, whatever exercise that you are able to do, even if it’s a short walk, can really benefit how we feel and our mental health.

Walking Man's Medicine


Why is being active important for our mental health and wellbeing?

It’s easy to grasp the idea that by using our bodies more we are keeping it in better-shape to function well. Even though at times we may think of our minds and bodies as separate, we now know that there are strong connections between our mental health, and our physical health – our minds and our bodies. If our bodies are working well, our minds are more likely to be working well too- likewise, if our minds are working well, our physical bodies are more likely to function better as well. Here are some of the ways that exercising can improve our mental health and wellbeing:

Reduces anxiety, stress, and lifts our moods.

Exercise is a really effective way to reduce our levels of anxiety and give our moods a boost. As we exercise, our brain chemistry is changed as endorphins are release, which can calm anxiety and lift our moods. These endorphin-given benefits of exercise are felt during and immediately after exercise, meaning that exercise can offer quick relief if we are feeling anxious or stressed.

Makes us better able to cope with stress

In addition to giving shorter-term relief from anxiety and stress, as we get fitter through exercising, we develop a better ability to regulate our ‘Cortisol levels’. Cortisol is a stress hormone, which is released when something triggers stress, such as certain life events. Cortisol is also released when we exercise, as the body experiences exercise as ‘stress’ (different from most daily-activity). Through exercising regularly, our bodies develop a better control of its release. Multiple studies have shown that prolonged episodes of having high Cortisol levels is linked with mental health problems such as depression, so minimising high Cortisol levels can be a good way to look after our mental health [1].

Reduced risk of depression

Research has demonstrated that a supervised programme of exercise can be equally as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression (Halliwell, 2005; Richardson et al.,  2005). A report by the Chief Medical Officer stated:  “physical activity is effective in the treatment of clinical depression and can be as successful as  psychotherapy or medication, particularly in the longer term” (Department of Health, 2004)[2].

Exercise can also be effective at breaking the ‘Cycle of Tiredness’. If we’re feeling tired or depressed, we may be inclined to be less active. However, by being less active, this can increase our feelings or tiredness and depression, further making us likely to do less. This can be a harmful cycle to us, and not good for our mental wellbeing. By exercising, we gain an energy boost due to the enorphins that exercise releases, which can help break this cycle.

Increases self-esteem

When we exercise regularly, our bodies get fitter and we feel better about ourselves. Being stronger and more physically fit is likely to improve how we feel about ourselves. By being active, we can also gain a sense of mastery as we get better at the activities we do. Whether it’s being able to lift a heavier set of weights or being able to run a further distance, achieving personal goals can be an empowering experience, and good for building our self-esteem.

Clearer thinking and a greater sense of calm

Sometimes our negative thoughts and feelings can take hold of us and are hard to escape from. Many people find that exercising gives them time away from their thoughts, and time to focus on something that is healthy for them rather than racing thoughts – and sense of being ‘in the moment’. Others find that by exercising, when their body tires, so does their mind; leaving them calmer and better able to think clearly.

Exercise can be fun and social

Many people find that exercise, especially playing sports, can be a lot of fun! Finding the time to do things we enjoy is important for our mental wellbeing.  Exercising with others offers us a chance to make friends and Connect with other peoplewhich, as one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing, is proven to be excellent for our sense of wellbeing and mental health.

How much exercise should we do?

The NHS recommends that adults (19-64) should aim to do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week, such as walking, ballroom or line dancing, riding a bike on flat terrain or playing doubles tennis.  Alternatively, doing more vigorous activities such as jogging or running, an aerobic class, playing football or doing martial arts for 75 minutes a week is roughly equivalent to this. Whatever you do, it’s also important to do muscle strengthen exercises, such as lifting weights, carrying or moving heavy loads, or heavy gardening, such as digging or shovelling on 2 or 3 days of a week.

Have a look at the NHS’s Physical activity guidelines for adults for more information about how much exercise you should do each week.

Physical Activities


How to be active in Brighton and Hove

Living in Brighton and Hove, we are lucky in that there are many ways that we can get more active and make exercise part of our lives. Being surrounded by beautiful countryside and a large number of public parks and green spaces, we have wonderful outdoor spaces that can be used for exercise – whether it is going for a walk or run, playing football in the park, or cycling along the seafront – there are plenty of ways to get outdoors and to be more active. As well as having great outdoor spaces, the city has a wide-range of free and low-cost physical activities that can be enjoyed both outdoors and indoors, all-year-round, and a number of different services that can help you become more active.

Active for Life and Brighton & Hove City Council

Active for Life is a project run by Brighton & Hove City Council to support people in the city to lead active lifestyles. From a small scale pilot in Hollingdean in 2005 Active For Life has grown into a city-wide initiative which reaches out to thousands of Brighton & Hove residents every year, supporting them to become more active, more often.

Active for Life offers a one-stop-shop for information about local, low-cost activities across our city. They have an online Activity Finder which allows you to search a database of affordable or free activities that you can get involved in that are available near you.

Brighton & Hove City Council also produces seasonal activity’s programmes, packed full of activity listings for every day of the week.

 Get Active Summer Programme 2017.pdf

Discount Leisure Card

Leisure Card – 40% off discount on activities for residents of Brighton & Hove that receive certain benefits. For more information, see the council’s webpage.

facebook logo 4 smallStay updated on Social Media

Brighton & Hove City Council Activities and Sports Facebook Page is regularly updated with exciting events and activities taking place across the city that are open and accessible to a wide range of people.

Sports in Parks

The City Council’s Sports in Parks Webpage offers detailed information about how you can get involved with playing sports in the city’s local parks and green spaces. The page offers information about council run Tennis Courts, local Football and Cricket Clubs, Bowls, Fitness Groups, Cycling, and much more.

Park Orienteering

The City Council also promotes Park Orienteering throughout the city, with lots of information about this on their website. Park Orienteering is an outdoor adventure sport that can be enjoyed as a competitive running challenge or as a more leisurely walking activity. The aim is to navigate in sequence between control points marked on a map, deciding the best route to complete the course in the fastest time. It doesn’t matter how young, old or fit you are. You can run, walk or jog the course and progress at your own pace.

There are permanent orienteering markers located in four of Brighton & Hove’s city parks, each with several courses of varying length. No specialist equipment is required and the maps are available to download for free.

More Information

Gardening for health and wellbeing

Gardening is a great way to increase our levels of physical activity, connect with others, learn new skills and take notice of the world around us. There is a great deal of evidence that gardening in both good for a our physical and our mental health. In Brighton and Hove, their are over 70 community food growing projects, from orchards to city centre parks… there is something for everyone. More information

5 vways to wellbeing landing page

Health Trainers 

If you’re serious about making healthier lifestyle changes, such as being more active, then Brighton and Hove’s Health Trainer’s Service may be able to help you achieve your goals. Health Trainer’s provide support, information and motivation to help you achieve a positive lifestyle change. The service is free and confidential, and is designed to support you in achieving realistic and long-term health benefits. They can help you:

  • explore the benefits of making a change
  • find out what the guidelines are around physical activity, healthy eating, alcohol and smoking
  • decide the lifestyle changes that are most important to you
  • learn how to set goals you are more likely to achieve
  • understand what gets in the way of making changes and create ways of coping with difficult situations
  • build motivation and confidence to help you keep going

More information

Bookshelf – Useful Guides and Factsheets

Mind Physical activity and sport smallBenefits of exercise for mental and physical health - Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation TrustMHF Exercise







Need more advice?

If you would like any more advice and information relating to mental health and/or how to Be Active in Brighton and Hove, please contact our Advice and Information Service:
Telephone: 01273 66 69 50





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