Physical activity for health and wellbeing in the caring role
Physical activity for health and wellbeing in the caring role

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Physical activity for health and wellbeing in the caring role

2 The benefits of physical activity to physical and mental health

In this section you will complete two activities to gain a greater understanding of the benefits of physical activity. In Activity 2 you will examine what happens in the body when you are physically active that allows you to reap the benefits of participation. In Activity 3 you will hear from Dr Florence Kinnafick, an exercise psychologist, who explains the benefits of physical activity to mental health in more detail.

Activity 2

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes.

You have seen that there are a number of benefits of physical activity, but what is it that happens in the body for this to occur? Watch Video 1, which provides a useful overview and then complete the sentences below, using the words provided. (You can type into the gap or copy and paste from the list of words.)

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1
Skip transcript: Video 1 What happens inside your body when you exercise?

Transcript: Video 1 What happens inside your body when you exercise?

[TEXT ON SCREEN: What happens inside your body when you exercise?]

NARRATOR:
Regular physical activity can lower your risk of heart and circulatory disease by 35%. When you are active, the heat produced by your muscles increases your body temperature, making you feel warmer. Your heart starts to beat faster, pumping more blood to the muscles you are using.
Your heart is also a muscle. If you are active regularly, it gets bigger and stronger. Your muscles are working harder, so they need more oxygen. You start to breathe faster so your blood can pick up more oxygen from your lungs. Your lungs work harder to make this happen.
Once your blood has picked up oxygen, it moves to the muscles you are using, giving them the extra oxygen they need. If you are active regularly, more capillaries grow in the muscles you've been working. This is one reason why activity starts to feel easier over time.
Getting active is great for people with diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, you have too much glucose in your blood-- probably because you don't have enough insulin. Physical activity helps you use the insulin you do have. It also helps your cells use glucose, even when there is no insulin. Regular physical activity can improve your memory and attention span. Over time, the bit of the brain involved in memory and learning seems to get bigger.
Long-term physical activity leads to a lower resting heart rate and lower blood pressure. This helps cut your risk of heart and circulatory disease. And there are more reasons to smile. When you're active, your brain produces chemicals called endorphins. These reduce feelings of pain, and make you feel more positive.
Getting active cuts down on stress hormones, reducing anxiety. Combine activity with a balanced diet, and you'll help yourself reach and maintain a healthy weight. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. Try to be active every day. Every 10 minutes counts.
End transcript: Video 1 What happens inside your body when you exercise?
Video 1 What happens inside your body when you exercise?
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Missing words: anxiety • capillaries • endorphins • increases • insulin • lowering • memory • muscle • oxygen • positive • weight

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Discussion

In addition to the benefits outlined in the video, regular physical activity throughout life can reduce the risk of many musculoskeletal conditions, including arthritis, back pain, neck pain, falls and fractures (Fenton, 2016). This addresses the reported implications of caring for adults with physical disabilities discussed in Session 1.

Activity 3

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes.

In the following interview Dr Florence Kinnafick, Senior Lecturer in Psychology from Loughborough University, discusses the benefits of physical activity to mental health.

Listen to Audio 1 and note down the key benefits of physical activity to mental health. Reflect on how these are of particular importance to carers, given the mental health implications from the caring role discussed in Session 1.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 1
Skip transcript: Audio 1

Transcript: Audio 1

DR NICHOLA KENTZER:
We often hear about the physical health benefits associated with physical activity and exercise. But it is important to highlight that participating can be of equal value to our mental health. I'm joined by Dr. Florence Kinnafick, senior lecturer in exercise psychology at Loughborough University, who will help to explain this further.
Welcome, Flo. Thank you so much for agreeing to share your knowledge on this topic. Perhaps you'd like to start by introducing yourself, and how you came to be involved in research in this area.
DR FLORENCE KINNAFICK:
Hi, Nic. Thanks very much for inviting me. Erm, yeah, so as you said, I'm a senior lecturer at Loughborough University in exercise psychology. So my area of interest is specifically around the psychosocial determinants of physical activity behaviour and why people engage in exercise and why they don't specifically. And within that is I'm particularly interested in those who have mental health problems and mental illness.
And the work started actually, it was in my previous position, when I was working with yourself, Nic, in Northampton. And I started working with Mind, the mental health charity, about six or seven years ago. And I've been working with them since on trying to understand what works for trying to encourage people to be more active, some of their service users, people who engage with Mind, people who have mental health problems.
DR NICHOLA KENTZER: OK, that's fantastic. So it sort of came about from one particular project, but that's kind of carried on. That's really interesting. So in terms of sort of physical activity and exercise and then it offering something to those who either have existing mental health conditions or just in general to sort of help our own mental health, can you explain some of those key benefits that it offers?
DR FLORENCE KINNAFICK:
Yeah, absolutely. And the evidence-- there's growing evidence for physical activity and mental health and kind of the associations that are going on with that. But I always want to try and emphasise that it's a real complex relationship, so it's not necessarily linear. So you engage in exercise and then you have those benefits.
It's often kind of mediated or moderated by lots of different things. So, for example, you can exercise and you'll start to feel good. But why do you feel good? Is it because you are engaged in an exercise in green space or within a group setting so you get those social benefits? Or are you sleeping better because you've been exercising? And then your sleeping better is going to improve your mental health.
So just kind of to understand that it's not always linear. It can depend on the individual, the symptoms of mental health problems that they are experiencing, the context that they're exercising, the type of exercise they're doing in terms of their competence of, if they feel that they're able to do the exercise, and that's going to increase their self-esteem, which will in turn help their mental health. And, obviously, the severity of the mental illness as well.
So with the caveat of that, that it's not necessarily linear, some of the kind of really important benefits that you have is reduced stress and anxiety. So it might be a release. It might be a period of time where you are not ruminating about something. And so you can have a period of time where you're not feeling stressed, and you can start to relax a little bit.
It can help kind of improve your energy levels, which then is linked to improving symptoms linked to depression, and then improving your happiness. As I mentioned, improving sleep, improving energy and fatigue, which then kind of goes hand-in-hand with depression, stress, and anxiety. And then kind of having an improved context where you are, so links with loneliness.
So it can reduce elements of loneliness if you are exercising with a group. So there's now good evidence to show that group exercise is pretty good for improving mental health. That body image as well, so if you're exercising, and you've got an increased kind of self-perception because of body image, then that can improve your mental health as well. So lots of psychosocial benefits, but it can depend on the context, if that makes sense.
End transcript: Audio 1
Audio 1
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Discussion

One point that Dr Kinnafick emphasised was that there is not a simple linear relationship between physical activity and exercise and its benefits to mental health, i.e. taking part in physical activity makes you feel better. She describes a more complex relationship with a number of mediating factors that we need to consider, such as the type and context of the physical activity participated in.

In terms of benefits of physical activity and exercise to mental health, Dr Kinnafick discussed the following:

  1. Reduced stress and anxiety – whether as a release or a period of time during which the individual is not thinking about their worries and so can relax.
  2. Improved energy levels (and reduced fatigue) – helping to improve symptoms linked to depression.
  3. Improved happiness.
  4. Improved sleep.
  5. Reduced loneliness if exercising with others.
  6. Improved body image and self-perception.

You might have reflected that, through these benefits, physical activity and exercise could offer carers relief to the symptoms associated with the caring role, such as poor sleep and increased stress and anxiety.

Now listen to Audio 2 and reflect on the amount of physical activity that carers might need to participate in to access the benefits discussed above.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 2
Skip transcript: Audio 2

Transcript: Audio 2

DR NICHOLA KENTZER:
One thing we know is that there are specific guidelines from the World Health Organization, and indeed from our own government, to guide us on how much physical activity to do per day, per week, or whatever, to get the maximum benefits that we know associate with physical activity to physical health. Is that the same for our mental health? And do we have benefits from smaller amounts? Or do we need to have that level of physical activity that we are guided on for physical health?
DR FLORENCE KINNAFICK:
Yeah. So there's not specific guidelines for mental health. And I think that is something that researchers are working towards. If you think about kind of there's one in four of us have a mental health problem in our lifetime, one in six within a year, so it is really prevalent, if you're talking about mental health problems.
So those 150 minutes that you're talking about in terms of physical activity guidelines certainly apply. But then, also, we know that you get the most benefits from that inactivity or being very sedentary, engaging in a lot of sedentary behavior, to a little bit of physical activity. You get big benefits there. And we also know that people who have mental health problems are some of the most inactive people in society.
So going from nothing to a little bit is always going to get those good amount of benefits. So there isn't specific guidelines. Working towards those 150 minutes is great, but doing some physical activity will bring some benefits. And I think we've got to remember that people with mental health problems face a lot of barriers that other people might not. So in terms of those benefits that they're going to get, often, the barriers are inversely related. So they will experience low energy, low motivation, low self-esteem, to be able to engage in exercise before being able to reap those benefits, if you want. So you've got to think about encouraging exercise, which is feasible, which is accessible, which is doable at all, before trying to work up to those 150 minutes.
End transcript: Audio 2
Audio 2
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Discussion

While Dr Kinnafick noted that there were no current guidelines for the required amount of physical activity to offer optimum benefits to mental health, she discussed that due to the likely inactivity of those with poor mental health, any increase in activity levels will offer some benefit. You might recall the information from Session 1 where evidence for the higher incidence of poor mental health in the caring population was presented. As such, you might have reflected that carers, a population with poor mental health and thus the potential to be more sedentary, would gain from even small amounts of physical activity to access the benefits listed above.

In the next section, you will consider in more detail exactly how much physical activity is needed to achieve the benefits Dr Florence Kinnafick mentions.

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