movement is medicine

Movement is Medicine: Your Mental Health

Exercise Right Week is an awareness campaign that is brought to you by Exercise & Sport Science Australia (ESSA) annually. This year it will run from 25th – 31st May with the theme of “Movement is Medicine”. The aim is to highlight how powerful exercise, physical activity and movement are for your health, irrespective of age, weight, background or health status.

Our friends Physio Connex Performance Clinic at Wyong, with their resident Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) Scott Howard, have been talking about different areas of exercise and how it impacts our physical health and function. Can this be true for our mental health and well-being too?

Mental Health and Mental Illness

Mental health is something we all possess. It’s not simply the absence of mental illness, but our enjoyment of life, ability to cope with stress and sadness, fulfilment of goals and a sense of connection to others.1 Mental illness however, is a disorder diagnosed by a medical professional that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities. Disorders include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

A growing body of research demonstrates the protective power of physical activity and exercise on our mental health:

  1. You don’t have to be an athlete – from as early as 5,000 steps a day and light-intensity physical activity can improve our mental health.2
  1. Instant benefit even a single bout of exercise can improve mood and well-being.3 A collection of studies found single bouts of exercises (from martial arts to cycling) improved mood during and immediately afterwards4
  1. Movement is Medicine comparing exercise to medication: “studies reported that exercise and standard antidepressant treatments were equally effective” and when used in combination “patients using exercise as an adjunctive treatment for depression showed a significant depressive improvement after the exercise period”5

Functional Decline and Mental Illness

We’ve learned that exercise can improve mood but what about the impact of injury or functional decline on our mental health. As Scott has previously shown the difference between a young-active and an older-inactive individual, let’s do the same.

An athlete’s injury response

Our experience of injury varies, depending on our goals, the extent of injury and our coping strategies. The International Olympic Committee consensus statement (2019) write “Emotional responses to injury may include symptoms of sadness, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, isolation, lack of motivation, anger, irritation, frustration, changes in appetite and sleep, low vigour, disengagement and burnout”6

The older persons loss of mobility

The relationship between functional ability (i.e. level of independence) and mental health is very much interconnected. Difficulty going to/from the shops will likely impact one’s mental health, similarly poor mental health may reduce motivation and perceived effort. In Australia, reablement and restorative care programs account for this, offering support both physically and psychologically for the older community.

These examples at either end of a physical fitness spectrum highlight the importance of maintaining function and rehabilitation following injury to protect our mental health.

What can we do?

If you’re looking for physical activity in your area, take a look at the Do More Search Engine – for all the physical activity and exercise on the Central Coast.

If you’ve suffered an injury, it’s important to consult with your medical practitioner. You may find they refer you to a physiotherapist for ongoing treatment and rehabilitation. Similarly, if you’re managing a long-term condition and find your physical fitness declining, your doctor may advise consultation with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

Mental Health is as much an element of health and wellbeing as physical health, and can be supported by a variety of different therapies. If you’re struggling with your mental health, consult with your medical practitioner or access these 24/7 Mental Health Services:


Anyone feeling anxious or depressed
1300 22 4636 

Kids Helpline

Counselling for young people aged 5 to 25
1800 55 1800

Mensline Australia

Men with emotional or relationship concerns
1300 78 99 78 

Open Arms

Veterans and families counselling
1800 011 046 


Anyone having a personal crisis
13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service

Anyone thinking about suicide
1300 78 99 78 

  1. Prevention First: A Prevention and Promotion Framework for Mental Health. Retrieved May 2020:
  2. Bernard, Paquito et al. “Dose response association of objective physical activity with mental health in a representative national sample of adults: A cross-sectional study.” PloS one 13,10 e0204682. 24 Oct. 2018,
  3. Yueng, R.R. “The acute effects of exercise on mood state.” J.Psychosom. Res. 40, 123-141 1996
  4. Brendon Stubbs and Simon Rosenbaum “Exercise-Based Interventions for Mental Illness: Physical Activity as Part of Clinical Treatment” London: Academic Press 2018
  5. Netz, Yael. “Is the Comparison between Exercise and Pharmacologic Treatment of Depression in the Clinical Practice Guideline of the American College of Physicians Evidence-Based?.” Frontiers in pharmacology 8 257. 15 May. 2017,
  6. Reardon CL et al “Mental health in elite athletes: International Olympic Committee consensus statement (2019)” British Journal of Sports Medicine 2019

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