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Mental Health Awareness Week 2024: Moving More for Our Mental Well-being

Prioritising mental health in this "always-on" lifestyle many of us lead is more crucial than ever. This is especially true in the workplace, where stress, deadlines, and the wrong culture can take a toll on employee well-being.

Mental Health Awareness Week, held annually in May, serves as a powerful reminder to focus on mental health and well-being. And this year's theme, "Movement: Moving More for Our Mental Health," emphasises the often-overlooked connection between physical activity and mental well-being.

So, in this article, we're delving into the science behind the link between movement and mental health, exploring strategies for individuals to incorporate movement into their lives, and offering practical advice for employers to create a culture of movement within their organisations.

The Science of Movement and Mental Health

There's a reason why the saying "exercise is good for you" exists. Decades of research have established a well-documented link between physical activity and improved mental well-being. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 62% of adults who said they exercise or walk to help manage stress found the technique very or extremely effective. With a recent article by Medical News Today suggesting you can see these benefits in as little as 20 minutes per day or 150 minutes per week.

This positive impact stems from the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins bind to receptors in the brain that reduce our perception of pain and elevate mood. But the benefits of movement extend beyond mood-boosting. Regular physical activity can also improve sleep quality, which is vital to mental well-being. "We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality," says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., Medical Director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep.

Moving Your Way: Finding Activities You Enjoy

The key to making movement a sustainable part of your life is to find activities you genuinely enjoy. Forget about forcing yourself to run marathons if running isn't your cup of tea! The beauty lies in the wide range of options available. For some, a brisk walk in nature might be the perfect way to unwind. Others might enjoy dancing to their favourite music, participating in a team sport like football or netball, or simply gardening.

Even incorporating small bursts of movement throughout your workday can make a difference. Consider suggesting walking meetings with colleagues or taking short stretching breaks at your desk.

Remember, the most important thing is to find activities that fit your fitness level and limitations. Listen to your body and gradually increase intensity and duration as you become more comfortable.

Movement in the Workplace: Strategies for Employers

Promoting physical activity among employees isn't just good for their well-being; it's good for your business. Studies show that companies with active workforces experience improved employee morale, increased productivity, and reduced absenteeism due to mental health concerns. So, how can you encourage your team to move more? Here are a few practical strategies:

  • Organise walking breaks or lunchtime fitness classes: A midday walk break can be a great way to combat afternoon slumps and encourage social interaction among colleagues. Consider offering on-site fitness classes or partnering with a local gym for discounted employee memberships.
  • Encourage active commutes: Offer incentives for employees who choose to walk, cycle, or take public transportation to work. Furthermore, consider providing secure bike storage or shower facilities for those who exercise during the commute or the day.
  • Promote a healthy workplace design: Invest in ergonomic furniture like standing desks and comfortable chairs to improve posture and minimise physical discomfort. An open-plan office layout might also encourage more movement throughout the day.
  • Offer flexible work arrangements: Flexible work schedules can allow employees to incorporate exercise into their day more easily. This could involve offering compressed workweeks, remote work options, or flexible start and finish times.

Moving Beyond the Physical: Mental Movement for Well-being

While getting our bodies moving is crucial, it's important to remember that movement isn't just physical. Mental movement, such as mindfulness and meditation practices, can also be incredibly beneficial for our mental well-being.

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Studies have shown that mindfulness can help reduce stress, improve emotional regulation, and enhance focus. Many free mindfulness apps and online resources are available to get you started, and even just a few minutes of daily practice can make a significant difference in your overall mental well-being.

Conclusion

This Mental Health Awareness Week, why not try increasing your movement – both physical and mental – and see how it affects your overall well-being? Start small, find activities you enjoy, and gradually incorporate movement into your daily routine. Remember, even baby steps can have a big impact.

For employers, fostering a culture of movement within your organisation creates a win-win situation. You'll not only see happier and healthier employees but also reap the benefits of increased productivity and reduced absenteeism.

Mental Health in Business is here to support you on this journey. We offer various workshops and training programs, including Mental Health First Aid Training, to empower individuals and organisations to create a supportive and mentally healthy environment. Visit the rest of our website or contact us today to learn how we can help you move towards a healthier and happier workplace.

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