The evidence of the benefits of movement to both physical and mental health is well documented. However, despite its apparent simplicity, for many people the advice “move more for your mental health” is easier said than done.

According to the Scottish Health Survey 2022, more than one third of adults in Scotland (35%) do not meet the guidelines for moderate or vigorous physical activity.  In our own research carried out for Mental Health Awareness Week this year, we found that people who are already at higher risk of developing poor mental health due to inequalities are more likely to face barriers to movement, and thus not able to enjoy the mental health and wellbeing benefits it offers. 

On paper, doing movement and physical activity should transcend social demographics. In reality, it’s not as free and easy as we’d like to think.  In our report published this week, "Moving more is good for our mental health.  So, what’s stopping us?", we explore the reasons why people are inhibited from taking part in physical activity more often.  We paid particular attention to people at higher risk of poor mental health including people living with long-term health conditions, asylum seekers and refugees, families affected by poverty, and young people.  Unsurprisingly, these groups of people were more likely to say that lack of time, feeling too tired, too stressed, or too anxious stopped them from being more active.

This Mental Health Awareness Week we are encouraging people to move more for their mental health, finding #MomentsForMovement in their everyday lives.  We are sharing tips and hosting events to support people but there is only so much people can do on their own.  Like most things that are good for our mental health such as eating a healthy diet, staying out of debt, or getting good sleep, it is much easier to be physically active when we feel secure in our homes, have adequate income to cover essential living costs, are not living with a long-term health condition, have adequate time outside of work and caring responsibilities, and are not subject to racism or discrimination. That’s why we need the Scottish Government to do more to encourage workplaces where people can get an adequate income within healthy working hours.

Being able to protect our own mental health should not be a luxury. But too many people are denied the chance to do things that are good for mental health due to poverty, financial strain, and inequality. It is these root causes that must be addressed if we are to achieve our vision of good mental health for all. Recognising the barriers is an important first step but we need our local and national governments to remember their role in creating communities and culture that supports good public mental health. When people miss out on the opportunity to take part in movement and physical activity, they are missing out on the chance to prevent poor mental health.

This Mental Health Awareness Week the Mental Health Foundation is leading the conversation about movement and mental health.  Follow online at or on social media #MomentsForMovement and #MentalHealthAwareness Week.

Dr Shari McDaid is Head of Policy for Scotland, Mental Health Foundation

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