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Let’s Get Physical: The impact of physical activity on wellbeing

Mental Health Awareness Week 2013

This report focuses on mental wellbeing. Mental wellbeing includes factors such as individuals’ ability to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others and contribute to their community’. It also involves areas of life such as feelings of satisfaction, optimism, self-esteem, having some control over one’s life, having a purpose in life and a sense of belonging and support.3 However, for someone to have sustainable wellbeing it is not required that they feel good all of the time. Experiences of painful emotions such as failure, disappointment and grief are part of normal life. However, mental wellbeing is reduced when these emotions are very frequent, long lasting or very intense and interfere with a person’s ability to function in their daily life.

The term ‘mental health problem’ is often used to describe a difficulty with our mental health that causes concern, or interrupts our ability to go about our daily lives in the way in which we would want. Mental illness refers to clinically identifiable illnesses or conditions that affect our cognitive and emotional functioning. In recent years many researchers have shifted from a focus on how to alleviate, or prevent, mental illness and distress to a focus on promoting mental wellbeing and positive mental health. This approach recognises that mental wellbeing is more than simply the absence of symptoms of a diagnosed mental illness. For example, a person may have a diagnosis of mental illness (e.g. bipolar disorder) but be living a fulfilling, happy and productive life much of the time.

One way to enhance our mental wellbeing and protect our mental health is through participating in physical activity. Physical activity has been shown to have a strong and positive influence on mental wellbeing and some mental illnesses. In the remainder of the report the term ‘wellbeing’ is used to mean ‘mental wellbeing’.