How you can reap the mental health benefits of a more active lifestyle - Sam Scott

The last year has taken its toll on our mental health and wellbeing, with lockdown, not being able to see loved ones, balancing work with home schooling, financial worries, and what has often felt like a never-ending stream of stress-inducing news reports hitting many people hard.

Edinburgh Leisure's Healthy Active Minds project uses physical activity to help people experiencing poor mental health to recover, stay well and live fulfilling lives
Edinburgh Leisure's Healthy Active Minds project uses physical activity to help people experiencing poor mental health to recover, stay well and live fulfilling lives

For some people who were already struggling with their mental health, the sudden loss of routine and abrupt end to support systems that they relied on exacerbated the problems they already faced. For others, such a stressful and uncertain period caused them to develop poor mental health for the first time in their lives.

There has never been a more important time to prioritise our mental health and one of the best things we can do for it is to be active. It can help to reduce anxiety levels, improve mood, reduce feelings of stress, improve self-esteem, encourage clear thinking, and create a greater sense of calm. For many people experiencing poor mental health, it is an effective way to stay well and manage their condition alongside other treatments.

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There are lots of ways to be active and the key is finding something that works for you. If you are looking to meet new people, joining a running group or 5-a-side team are great ways to feel more socially connected. If you are working from home, a short walk around the block or 10 minutes of yoga can help to break up your day. If you don’t feel ready to get active in public, online classes from the comfort of your own living room can help you to dip your toe in the water. For me, simple things like going running with a friend and playing football in the garden with my wee boy never fail to lift my spirits!

Sam Scott is a Health Development Officer for Mental Health and Wellbeing at Edinburgh Leisure

Edinburgh Leisure is a charity on a mission to keep everyone active and well. Each year our Active Communities programme uses the power of physical activity and sport to support over 10,000 people affected by disabilities, health conditions, poverty, and inequalities to improve their health and wellbeing.

One of our Active Communities projects, Healthy Active Minds, uses physical activity to help people across Edinburgh experiencing poor mental health to recover, stay well and live fulfilling lives. We give participants access to a range of free activities, such as swimming, going to the gym, fitness classes and climbing, and our expert Health Instructors support them to find an activity they enjoy which fits into their life.

Over the last lockdown, while our sports and leisure facilities were closed, we continued to support Healthy Active Minds participants with wellbeing phone calls, online 1:1 sessions, and a programme of online group sessions including circuits, yoga and stretching.

One participant who benefitted from Healthy Active Minds over lockdown was Ros. She told us:

“An operation I had been waiting for was postponed by several months. My mobility was impaired, I was in a great deal of pain and, with lockdown added into the mix, I was left feeling depressed and anxious.

Healthy Active Minds has been vitally important for me. As a single person living alone during the pandemic, the support I received from wellbeing calls and online 1:1 sessions with Michael was so beneficial. We built up great rapport and he made me feel less isolated.

Michael helped me to find exercises that I could do safely and confidently from home after my operation. Getting active with Healthy Active Minds has done wonders for both my mental and physical health and helped me to cope during a difficult time.”

Now that Edinburgh Leisure venues have re-opened and lockdown restrictions have started to ease, Healthy Active Minds has begun delivering a combination of 1:1 and group activities in line with Scottish Government guidance. It has been wonderful seeing so many friendly faces back in our venues and we’re looking forward to supporting as many people as possible to reap the mental health benefits of a more active lifestyle!

For more information on Healthy Active Minds, contact Sam Scott at [email protected].

Sam Scott is a Health Development Officer for Mental Health and Wellbeing at Edinburgh Leisure

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