3 May 2024  •  Blog, Mental Health  •  6min read By  • Sarah Barnard

Moving more for Mental Health Awareness Week with Sarah Barnard

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Practice Plan Regional Sales Manager, Sarah Barnard, talks about the benefit of exercise and suggests ways to incorporate it into your daily life.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (13th – 19th May) is “Movement: Moving more for mental health”. The aim is to highlight the part exercise plays in maintaining and improving our mental health.

Often, the view of ‘exercise’ is punishing gym sessions or running long distances. However, exercise doesn’t have to be extreme to do you good. It’s more important to concentrate on incorporating more movement into your routine than it is to run a marathon or lift 50kgs!

In this case the sort of movement we’re recommending is anything that makes your body use energy. This could be dancing, walking, vigorous housework, gardening, swimming or taking part in sports. Whatever you choose it should be something you enjoy and that you can commit to doing regularly.

Benefits of movement on mental health

Exercise has many benefits, the most notable of which is the release of the feel-good hormones endorphins and serotonin. These two hormones naturally lift our mood which is one of the reasons we feel so great after exercising, not just because we’re grateful it’s stopped!

Having this boost can also help with managing stress. In a survey by Mental Health UK , 56% of adults said that exercise helped them manage stress, which in turn helped them avoid burnout; something that has been prevalent in dentistry since the pandemic.

Exercise also helps improve sleep. Disrupted sleep or insomnia are symptoms of a number of mental health conditions including depression, burnout and anxiety. Being unable to get enough sleep can have a negative effect upon our mood and ability to function, so anything that helps get a restful night’s sleep is a bonus. The benefits of exercise are also enhanced if it’s done outdoors. So, if you’re a dog owner, you’re probably already aware of how good both you and your canine companion feel after a brisk walk, come rain or shine.

How much exercise?

The NHS website has plenty of information about how much weekly exercise the Chief Medical Officer recommends for an adult. Currently, it’s 150 minutes of moderate exercise such as walking, hiking, dancing, pushing a lawnmower, riding a bike on the flat or aqua aerobics, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. This includes playing rugby, football, netball, hockey, riding a bike fast or uphill, aerobics or martial arts). You can space these out over the week as there’s no need to do it all in one session.

However, it’s not just about getting your heart and lungs working as it’s important to also do exercises that strengthen your muscles. The NHS recommends including a couple of strength sessions each week. You can still do this without weights if you don’t have access to them as you can use your own body weight by doing push ups and squats. These sessions are especially important as you get older as we lose muscle as we age. Having stronger muscles helps with balance and mobility, helping to make people less prone to falls. Having compromised mobility can have a profoundly negative effect on someone’s mental wellbeing so it’s important to do what we can to protect it.

Fitting in exercise

Choose the form of movement and exercise that suits you and your lifestyle. If the gym is somewhere you really enjoy and are able to find the time to get there regularly, then that’s great. However, there are those who don’t enjoy that or may not be able to afford the cost of gym membership. In which case, there are plenty of other ways to incorporate more movement into your day.

Walking is one of the cheapest and easiest forms of exercise to fit into daily life. If you drive to work, try parking a bit further away from the practice so you get a few minutes walking in either end of your day. If you travel on public transport, rather than using the stop that’s closest to you, think about walking briskly to the next one. If it’s practical, you could swap your car or public transport for a bike and cycle to work instead.

If these aren’t achievable for you, how about a quick walk at lunchtime? If you can’t find a circular route, try setting out for 5 or 10 minutes, turning around and coming back but trying to walk a bit further each day. You’ll need to pick up the pace to be able to achieve this, so that will really get your heart pumping!

If it’s absolutely tipping down or blowing a gale, it may not be practical for you to get outside. In which case there are plenty of online exercise classes you could join or follow. A quick search of YouTube should yield something you can work along to. The NHS website’s Fitness Studio workout videos are also a great place to start. There’s a whole range of exercises you can try including stretching ones such as Pilates and Yoga. The nature of dentistry (leaning over and working on people’s mouths all day) means team members are particularly prone to musculoskeletal problems. So, stretching is a great way to protect yourself from this type of condition.


If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to start exercising. If you’re struggling to get going, then it can help to find an exercise buddy. That way, you’re accountable to someone else and not just yourself. Not turning up for your walk, run or bike ride means you’ll be letting another person down, so it’s harder to just duck out and flop in front of the telly. Having an exercise buddy also brings social contact, something that is also great for our mental wellbeing.

Moving more and exercising really does have lots of benefits for both our physical and mental wellbeing. If you’re new to it, start small and build up. When you’ve hit on something you enjoy doing, you’ll find it easier to keep going and doing it because you want to, not because you have to.


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