Improving your Mental Health with Exercise

A Bangor University PhD student has been looking into the relationship between a person’s mental health and physical activity. Rhi Willmot, originally from Whitstable in Kent, has just completed her research into how exercise can reduce stress and improve our wellbeing. 

Rhi’s research focused on how to motivate healthy lifestyle behaviour using positive psychology, examining resilience and motivation. She said, 

“A lot of the evidence shows that there’s a really strong link between mental wellbeing and physical activity and that can happen in a few different ways.

“One example might be that physical activity releases something called endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain killer so this happens whenever we’re working out quite intensely, raising the heart rate, breathing a bit more enthusiastically than normal. The body releases these feel-good chemicals which can make us feel a lot more positive and really boost the mood directly.

“Other associations between physical activity and wellbeing come from increased confidence, so this is a really great way of giving us objective feedback about how taking on a new challenge can actually be a lot less scary than it initially seems and you can achieve things you never thought possible.”

Part of Rhi’s PhD research included a study on parkrun UK, a popular physical activity initiative where people meet up on a Saturday morning at locations all around the world to run 5K. Rhi looked at different factors in the success of parkrun. She added, 

“I was really interested in parkrun because it seems to have changed the relationship that many people have with exercise and it’s really encouraged people who didn’t typically run before to get into some form of physical activity. My research has shown that this had a really positive impact on their lives as a whole, so they felt much better able to cope with stress; they started taking care of themselves in other ways, getting a bit more sleep and drinking a bit less on a Friday night. What we really saw was that parkrun is very inclusive and so it has managed to cater for a lot of different people.”   

As a recent graduate, Rhi is well aware of the challenges faced by students during their time at university. Starting University for the first time can be an anxious time for some young people but it can also be a great opportunity to start something new and set new goals. Rhi explains,

“I think being at University in particular gives a great opportunity to get involved with physical activity and also it’s a great way to experience new challenges in an environment where there’s a lot of support on offer.”

Bangor University has been placed in the top 10 for 'Student Support' by the What Uni Student Choice Awards and the Student Services Centre has a dedicated team of Mental Health Advisors who are there to offer support to students on all aspects of mental health issues. 

Bangor University also offers around 200 clubs and societies that are free to join, giving students plenty of opportunity to try new things and set new challenges.

Rhi Willmot shares her Top 5 Tips on How to Reduce Stress with Exercise in this Get Ready for University video.

Publication date: 12 September 2019