Talking to BBC News about the link between physical activity and wellbeing

16/05/2024

For Mental Health Awareness Week, Rethink Mental Illness featured on BBC News to discuss the benefits of exercising with a mental illness and the barriers to doing so.

The show highlighted a recent survey published by Sport England that asked people to score their life. People who do 150 minutes of exercise a week scored their life higher than those who are inactive.

BBC News sports correspondent Joe Wilson wanted to find out if physical activity can help people who face some of the most severe forms of mental illness.

“I always enjoyed doing PE at school,” said Rethink Mental Illness supporter James Lindsay. “I didn’t appreciate until I got mentally ill how it can make you feel good and it can help you deal with stress.”

James is a keen marathon runner. And when he’s not running on the streets he’s at home tackling yoga.

“I’ve got schizoaffective disorder,” continued James, “and I’ve had two episodes of psychosis. The main thing that helps me is my medication. But what also helps me is exercise and just talking about my illness.”

In our own recent survey with people living with severe mental illness, over 90% agreed physical activity would benefit them in the long term.

But over 75% of people said their condition makes it hard to exercise, citing medication side effects like weight gain and lethargy.

“The stark reality is, unfortunately, that people with a severe mental illness die, on average, 15 to 20 years earlier than the general population, and that’s largely down to poor physical health,” said Mel Islin, physical activity programme manager at Rethink Mental Illness.

“We need to look at how we can use physical activity to combat medication that can have quite significant side effects. So it’s about how can we incorporate any kind of body movement into our everyday life?”

And there is another barrier to consider – stigma. Conditions like James’s are still misunderstood.

“Sometimes words are used in the media inappropriately,” he said. “We were watching a YouTube video the other night and the title was ‘psychotic’ in capital letters.

“It was a sentence and then ‘this person’s psychotic’. It’s a negative connotation, whereas actually people with psychosis are unwell and they need help and they are not actually dangerous.

“I’ve been lucky that I’m a part of sports and exercise groups which encourage chat.”

Visit BBC iPlayer to watch the feature from minute 14.