Exercising for better mental health

Head shot of Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones, Civil Service Health and Well-Being Champion

Today marks the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week. This year, the theme is what we all can do to achieve good mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 BadgeOne way is through physical activity. Being active and moving more has lots of benefits, which can include better mental health and an improved sense of well-being.

How can physical activity help our mental well-being?

Physical activity is not just important in preventing disease. There is a good evidence for physical activity being a first line in the treatment of conditions like hypertension, mild depression and anxiety. In some cases, regular physical activity is as effective, or more effective, than medication. It's medically proven that people who do regular physical activity have an up to 30% lower risk of depression and dementia.

Those with limited mobility can also have an active lifestyle. Activities can include swimming, sitting exercises or wheelchair sports such as basketball, netball and badminton.

The Walking Challenge

Two people walking in countryside with Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 badge superimposed.

Walking is one of the easiest ways to get active and the potential health gains are significant. For me, it’s the one way I can guarantee fitting some exercise into my working day, as I typically have to walk between different Government Legal Department and other government buildings in London.

Logo of the The Charity for Civil ServantsThe Charity for Civil Servants annual Walking Challenge also launches today. The Charity is firmly behind the concept of exercising for better mental health. Every year thousands of civil servants accept the Charity’s challenge to walk 10,000 steps a day for 50 days, registering their steps on a dedicated website. This year’s theme is #WalktoWellbeing, reflecting the organisation’s campaign to raise awareness of its mental well-being support services.  

Today, the Charity will also be launching an online test, guiding users through a series of questions designed to help them self-identify their mental wellbeing, with suggestions for support based on their responses.   

What else is happening this week?

The Walking Challenge is not the only thing happening this week. I am very encouraged to hear about all the awareness-raising campaigns and events taking place in departments. For example, both the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health will be working with their Employee Assistance Programme to deliver mental health workshops for their staff. The Department of Health will also be publishing anonymised case studies on their intranet from staff who live with or support people with mental ill health.

Also on Friday 12 May, Philip Rutnam, the Civil Service Disability Champion, will be opening a mental health event based on this year’s theme and organised by the Civil Service Disability and Inclusion Team.

I encourage you all to engage in activities to take care of your mental health and to support others in doing so. I look forward to hearing more about the events taking place this week.


  1. Gavin Thomas

    Thank you Jonathan for promoting a very important week.

    I can certainly advocate exercise as a fantastic coping strategy for when I feel that my day to day lifestyle seems more challenging than normal.

    As part of my daily routine during monday to friday, I ensure that I set aside time at lunchtime to get away from my desk and to take a walk either around St James Park or around Whitehall. London. I have found that even after the most shortest of walks, I find myself feeling refreshed and able to think more clearly.

    I have also found that having a dog has been beneficial, as I have to take him out for a walk when I return from work in the evenings and that I have to take him long walks early mornings at the weekends.

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  2. Kevin

    "For example, both the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health will be working with their Employee Assistance Programme to deliver mental health workshops for their staff."

    This is a great positive step towards achieving greater exclusivity and recognition of the diverse make-up of the modern workplace.

    If would be even better if these mental health workshops were rolled out across the whole of Civil Service and especially HR functions so that our public service employees with mental health conditions can be better treated and regarded than they are at present.

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  3. Charlotte Smith

    As someone who has suffered from depression in the past, i do support the messages being conveyed here. i agree that it is a duty to oneself to exercise at least once a day. I am exercising from home using various apps and have invested in an exercise mat and the relevant attire. I also have my fitbit.

    However with DWP promoting wellbeing and with staff now having to work different shifts and with the pay situation being dire (pay cap), is it not unreasonable to consider three requests.

    1. Offer flexi credit of say an hour to allow staff time to attend the local gym or swimming pool even if it is once a week.

    2. Offer discounted gym membership and pool access. Also to see a dietician for a one off consultation and diet plan.

    3. Food vouchers. With bills going through the roof and austerity really hits most deeply with not being able to buy healthy foods, offer food vouchers for staff members who are really feeling the strain. Good diet means a happier outlook on life from a mental health point of view.

    By all means advocate for a healthy workforce, but be prepared to put the money behind the initative and give staff fianancial support and the flexibility to do this. Its not cheap being healthy!!!!!

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  4. Andrew Jones

    Would it be possible to arrange for departments with gym and exercise facilities to open up access across departments? This would be possible now that the common civil service pass is in place and would get maximum value from these investments.

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