Stress, anxiety and depression levels have soared under restrictions to curb the spread of covid-19, according to new research. And with local lockdown measures introduced, and the potential for a second national lockdown looming ever larger, what can we do to improve our mental health during such tough times?


It is widely accepted that physical activity can benefit and improve your mental wellbeing.

parkrun is now a global phenomenon, helping millions of people worldwide to get physically fit, and – according to research carried out by Staffordshire University back in 2017 – it has the capacity to support and treat people with mental health difficulties.

It has, however, been suspended worldwide since lockdown was imposed back in March – but recently parkrun chiefs confirmed its return, in England at least, slated for the end of October.

Enabling You to Connect With Others

The benefits of exercise on mental health have long been obvious and acknowledged, but the aforementioned Staffordshire Uni study confirms and identifies three key themes – sense of achievement, connecting with others, and ‘it’s for everyone’ (meaning an “equitable, welcoming and non-threatening environment”).

The study involved parkrunners who identified as having experienced mental health difficulties, and it concluded that volunteering, being outside and participating in a community activity can be beneficial. Participants reported that parkrun gives them a sense of identity – being part of the ‘parkrun community’ and reducing the stigma associated with mental health difficulties. Each participant in the research reported that parkrun was beneficial to their mental health.

parkrun is free of charge

Put simply, one of the wonders of parkrun is participants with mental health difficulties are not viewed as patients. It is also completely free of charge, it is communal and it represents an ideal introduction to physical activity. Some can legitimately claim parkrun saved their life. It truly is a thing of wonder.

People with mental health difficulties are among the most socially excluded people in the UK, and social exclusion is associated with poorer physical and psychological health, and so the communal aspect is a particularly vital one.

The research reveals that parkrun grows confidence, helps to reduce feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety and stress, and gives participants space to think. Volunteering opportunities at parkrun increase inclusivity as people who do not want to walk or run, or are unable to, can participate by volunteering.

Paul Morris from Staffordshire University, who co-authored the report, is unequivocal about the findings:

This study highlights the importance of community and belonging to participants and demonstrates the potential to support people outside of traditional mental health services. The sense of community, friendship and camaraderie was more important to participants than physical exercise, suggesting that initiatives emphasising a sense of community and support may be beneficial to mental health and wellbeing. paul morris, staffs university

You can find your nearest parkrun here, along with loads of other information elsewhere on their website.

Swimming – *the* most comprehensive workout

The physical benefits of swimming are well known – it is arguably the most comprehensive ‘all body workout’ available – but a new study found regular swimming can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Mental health illnesses affect millions of people in the UK, with approximately a fifth of British adults showing symptoms of anxiety or depression, as stated by the Mental Health Foundation.

Recently, World Mental Health Day shone a light on the issues faced by society when it comes to mental health issues, and while there are a range of methods that can be used to reduce symptoms, a regular visit to your local swimming pool will almost certainly prove beneficial in the long run.

Swimming Can Help Treat Anxiety and Depression

According to a YouGov poll commissioned by Swim England, 1.4 million adults in the UK have found that swimming has had a positive effect on their anxiety or depression – while almost half a million of British adults who swim and have mental health issues said that regular swimming has resulted in them making less frequent visits to a medical professional in order to discuss their mental health.

The poll found that around 3.3 million Brits over the age of 16 who have mental health issues swim at least once every two to three weeks.

Hayley Jarvis, head of physical activity for mental health charity Mind, believes the importance of exercising for both physical and mental wellbeing has never been clearer.

We all know that doing physical activities like swimming is good for our bodies. But our physical health and mental health are closely linked and we know from our own Get Set to Go programme that being physically active can also be very beneficial for our mental health too. If you’re more active there’s good evidence to suggest that at most ages, there’s a trend towards lower rates of depression. hayley jarvis, mind

Most Pools Are Now Reopened

Pools and leisure centres have been hit hard by the covid related closures, although most pools are now reopened, albeit with new measures in place, such as lane swimming and getting showered at home, to help curb the spread of covid-19.

Want to cut down drinking?

And last but not least – drinking. Official figures have suggested over half a million adults have increased their drinking to ‘severely dangerous’ levels since lockdown began, with he number consuming more than 50 units of alcohol a week soaring by 33%, according to Public Health England.

Sport and physical activity is a great way to cut down drinking, often simply by filling spare time in ways other than opening a bottle and giving you something else to focus on. But sport alone won’t stop you drinking.

There are loads of great resources out there to help and provide advice on stopping drinking and improving mental health. The forthcoming Sober October could be a great place to start, with the added incentive of raising money for charity. This is a great way to start tackling drink demons.

Other resources, such drinkaware and Rehab4Addiction, also offer a comprehensive guide to cutting booze out of your life.

Good luck!

The pandemic and resultant lockdown has taken its toll on all of us in a variety of ways, whether mental health, work, business or other worries. If you’ve been struggling with your mental health and other associated issues, we hope you can find some solace and would encourage anyone to give some sort of physical activity a go. Good luck.


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