How can exercise help with the feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and depression?

Mental health is finally making it into the media. Prince William recently discussed it for the Heads Together Campaign, ‘Trust Me I’m a Doctor’ are making it a regular feature and Teresa May is being urged to take action with the rising suicide rate, to name but a few.


But with our struggling NHS, overstretched mental health services, and prescriptions of anti-depressants doubling in the last 10 years, what can we do for ourselves to feel better and avoid (or reduce) medication?


Have you heard of ‘Ecotherapy’? Sounds good doesn’t it, so good it must be expensive, right? Nope! Ecotherapy is simply exercise outside. Exercise has been proven to boost mood and improve feelings of well-being, and exercise outside has now been shown to be more effective for depression and anxiety than anti-depressants. WOW!

The colours, sounds and smells of the great outdoors stimulate our senses in a way that the gym or urban environments don't. Equally getting physically fit and achieving personal goals boost our confidence and self-esteem and help combat feelings of hopelessness, which can often come over us when we're feeling low.

Playing sport with others can have even greater impact as it provides an opportunity to strengthen social networks, talk through problems with others or simply laugh and enjoy a break from family and work.

To get the most from Ecotherapy it's important to find a sport you love and can stick at - try different things, be it walking, swimming, running, football, cycling or taekwondo!

Having a physical health illness can also be a cause of mental health problems so staying active, and therefore physically fit, can help maintain mental health too. We regularly give exercises ‘on prescription’ as part of our treatment plans, and are increasingly doing so for mental health problems.

What activities do you recommend?

People have different levels of fitness, ability and availability, but NHS guidelines for 19-65 year olds suggest 150 minutes of activity - be that walking, team sports or swimming - per week.

Here are some ideas:

  • A daily 30 minute walk, especially good if you can meet a friend on the way. Use the trees, posts and fences to reach up to, bend under or climb over.
  • At the playground, don’t just sit there! Use the structures to stretch, swing from and pull up on
  • Plant some seeds, dig, bend, stretch and enjoy the smell of the earth
  • Climb a tree – go on, you can do it!
  • Set yourself an exercise goal, such as the Couch to 5K, where you can gently build your fitness
  • Stop a little short of your destination and walk the rest of the way
  • Open water swimming. Even a paddle in a stream or river will be very stimulating!
  • Visit for more inspiration

There is benefit in doing exercise in a structured way to help with mental health problems - making sure that your activity levels are consistent, and that you do a similar amount of exercise each week. It can also help to have something to look forward to, particularly if the type of exercise is something social.

Above all, if you’re feeling down, keep in touch. Don’t withdraw from life. Contact your friends and family, and if you have been feeling low for longer than 2 weeks, go and see your GP or call NHS 111.

Emma Wightman
Stockbridge Osteopath

Comments (2)

Said this on 2-10-2017 At 07:34 pm
A good blog. Don't forget Mindfulness, the headspace app is also very good and the ability to breath and breath properly! If it all gets too much there is Samaritans!! 116 123!
Emma Wightman
Said this on 2-21-2017 At 11:09 am
Thanks for your comments Tim, and for mentioning some more great coping techniques. I am a huge fan of Mindfulness and love the Headspace App.
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