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Exercise and mental health
Exercise and mental health

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1 Exercise and mental health

Activity 1 The psychological benefits of exercise

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

View the Mental Health Foundations’s guide on ‘How to look after your mental health using exercise’. [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Make a list of the key psychological benefits potentially associated with participating in physical activity and some of the research studies that support these beenfits.


The key benefits noted within the guide are:

  1. Exercise is associated with increased mental alertness.
  2. Exercise can lead to an increase in energy and positive mood.
  3. Exercise can lead to an increase in self-esteem.
  4. Exercise results in the reduction of stress and anxiety.
  5. Exercise can prevent the development of mental health problems.
  6. Exercise can improve the quality of life of those who are experiences mental health problems.

Activity 2 Evidence to support the link between physical activity and mental health

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

In the previous activity you examined some of the evidence that links participation in physical activity with improved mental health. In this activity you will examine the importance of such research and the types of research evidence that exist.

Listen to Track 1, ‘Physical activity and mental health: what’s the evidence?’, and complete the tasks below. In this clip you will hear Dr Gaynor Parfitt and Professor Adrian Taylor discussing the evidence that exists to support the notion that there is a link between physical activity and mental health. Dr Parfitt and Professor Taylor are exercise psychologists at the University of Exeter, specialising in this field of research.

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Physical activity and mental health: what's the evidence?
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  1. Make a list of the types of research they discuss (e.g. epidemiological research). Search for definitions of these types of research using the internet.)
  2. Why is it important to provide research evidence of the link between exercise and mental health?
  3. What is said about the quality of some of the research that exists?


  1. Dr Parfitt and Professor Taylor discuss two main types of research:
    • Dose–response research. As the name suggests, dose–response studies involve participants being given a dose of something, after which their response is measured. In this case, participants would be given a ‘dose’ of physical activity and the impact on their mental health (response) measured.
    • Epidemiological research. Epidemiology is the study of the incidence, prevalence and control of health and disease across a population. In the context of this activity, epidemiological research would therefore be interested in patterns of mental health and physical activity across a population.
  2. Professor Taylor suggests that the more evidence there is for a positive link between physical activity and mental health, the more likely it is that healthcare services will be directed towards providing exercise as a treatment for mental health conditions. Unless evidence can be provided, the government will not invest in exercise as a treatment for such conditions.
  3. Professor Taylor suggests that although most people believe that exercise makes you feel better, the quality of research examining exercise and mental health is not always as good as it could be. This is often because it can be difficult to control physical activity.