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How Does Physical Activity Impact Mental Health?

Info: 2243 words (9 pages) Nursing Essay
Published: 11th Feb 2020

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Tagged: mental healthexercise

The benefits of exercise and the impact it has on our mental and physical wellbeing is well documented and researched.

The NHS and the department of health have invested heavily into exercise and its benefits on both our physical and emotional well-being. Overwhelming evidence shows that regular exercise reduces the risks of all major illnesses in the UK, heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Whilst the benefits of exercise for physical health alone are impressive, the research goes on to show that regular exercise can also boost our self-esteem, whilst reducing the risks of stress, depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. (NHS , 2018)

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 Mind a UK charity for mental health, has a self-help booklet on how to improve physical activity and sport that show the advantages of regular exercise on our mental health and wellbeing. Listing that regular exercise will help reduce our anxiety, stress, and decrease the risk of depression, while helping us increase our self-esteem, think clearly and have a greater sense of calm. (Mind UK, 2018, p. 8)

Exercise can be a lonely, socially awkward, stressful experience and the thought of going it alone could be enough to make your blood run cold or lose all interest in doing any exercise at all.

 No one has ever said exercising is going to be easy but why should we face an assortment of stresses, anxieties, and negative feelings before we even begin. Exercise is supposed to increase our overall mental health and well-being. Can group activity really give us a boost?

Groups exercise versus solo workouts

Exercising in groups or within sport clubs could not only reduce our social anxieties but could improve our social interactions, create well-balanced competitive thoughts and emotions, whilst improving our overall health and well-being.

A study published in the November 2017 issue of the journal of American osteopathic association, found that people increase their overall quality of life along with decreasing their stress whilst doing group exercises, opposed to those doing solitary or little to no exercise. (Yorks, Frothingham, & Schuenke, 2017)

The study looked at how group exercise could help a group of medical student’s overall well-being whilst decreasing stress levels with the use of regular workouts.

The study followed 69 medical students for a 3-month period, the students were divided into 3 research groups, group one did a weekly 30-minute core group exercise, another group were solo exercises, and the final group also known as the control group did not engage in any form of regular exercise other than usual walking or biking for their daily commute. 

The study investigated the students overall stress levels and their quality of life – mental, physical and emotional – by way of surveys both perceived stress and visual analogy.

After the 3-month period, group exercisers were found to have improvements in all three quality of life measurements, and a decrease in their perceived stress. By comparison, the solo exercisers only showed improvement in the mental quality of life measurement, even though they exercised roughly one hour more each week. Those in the control group showed little to no improvements in either stress levels or quality of life by the end of the study period.

Whilst the research shows that social exercise has a positive impact on overall well-being, the results should be viewed with discretion. Not, only are the subject group medical students but also limited on numbers. The groups were decided amongst themselves meaning results could be also be affected by many factors.

A more recent study published on October 2018, has found that those suffering from a range of mental health problems taking part in community football program has not only reduced stress and anxiety levels, but an overall reduction in symptoms, but not only that it has also gone on to increase a participants self-esteem, self-confidence, and tackled feelings of social isolation. (Friedrich & Mason, 2018)

Because of research and studies of mental health and exercise. Mental health services around the country employ an array of staff both in inpatient services and community settings to work with people suffering enduring mental health problems, Staff range from activity coordinators to sports and exercise therapists, their main job role is to engage service users into exercise and group activities. Local GP services now prescribe exercise classes and gym membership to those suffering anxiety and depression.

Other research into group exercise health benefits found that a single session of community-based aerobics and bodyweight resistance reduced post exercise hypertension in young adult women. (Mendes, Sousa, Garrido, Cavaco, & Quaresma, 2014). While oncology research in the united states found that cancer survivors that participated in weekly group exercise reduced the risk of recurrent disease, along with an overall sense of well-being, an improved quality of life. (Mustanti & Murley, 2016)

Personality type and sports clubs 

Could our personality type influence our choices when it comes to exercise, is being more extroverted than introverted likely to have an impact on how we exercise or style of exercising choice, does personality influence your wellbeing when it comes to exercise. 

Research on personality and exercise has been investigated and studied, Research results lead towards extroverts being more likely to be driven by self-confidence and/or feelings. (Yap & Lee, 2013). This is further supported by researchers who have found that introverts and extroverts differ in levels of arousal, extroverts prefer higher levels and introvert’s low levels. (Rhodes, Courneya , & Jones, 2000)

A further study goes on to suggest that extroverts prefer group settings and high intensity workouts. (Courneya & Hellsten, 1998)

Although further research is required into the big five personality types and psychical activity, as results vary country to country and much further studies are required in the UK. (Rhodes P. , 2012, pp. 219-220)

These findings came as no surprise to myself, as all I had to do was look at my friend at university, we’re opposites on the personality spectrum. Myself being more extroverted and social would prefer a group class over attending the gym by myself, my friend, however, the idea of a group-based exercise is enough to send her into stress overdrive, preferring to take herself to the treadmill undisturbed. Your personality appears to have many factors and is likely to have an influence over exercise, and how we perceive social situations, therefore, directly affecting our mental health and wellbeing.

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When, taking personality into account do sports clubs bring added benefits to our overall sense of wellbeing and improve our mental health and personal wellbeing, when we think of sports clubs we think of main sporting events and national teams. But local sports clubs not only encourage youths and adults alike to mix and engage in various sport outlets at all levels. Football, rugby, cricket, swimming, and green bowls to name just a few all these clubs come with huge social benefits. They bring communities together, they encourage social inclusion and have regular meetings and social events.

The Australian federal governments multicultural Youth sports partnership program focuses on using sport and sports clubs to integrate migrants and refugees into the community, whilst using the policy to promote engagement and wellbeing. This policy might be idealistic that sport could fix social and cultural divides alone, but it does highlight that community sporting spaces can fulfil social, psychical and emotional needs. (Ramon, 2013)

 Within the UK Comic Relief, a major charity funds the Sport for change project, as of 2018 it has funded over 400 projects globally to tackle a wide range of issues including social inclusion, Sports for change is designed to use the power of sport as a way of bringing people together regardless of culture, language or social class. It uses a social connection by bringing generations together, building relationships and team working to create a community while developing life, communication, and leadership skills, Sports for change challenges harmful stereotypes and stigma faced by many people while increasing mental and physical health all through the power of sport, however, you don’t have to play sport to gain from sports for change as a lot of its sports organisations and clubs provide work experience, volunteer and paid opportunities as well as entrepreneurial pathways. (Comic Relief, 2017)

Whilst extensive research shows that group activity or group exercise classes reduces stress, anxiety, and boosts our overall well-being, Personal choice must play a part in decision making if the idea of groups make you socially awkward or increase your stress levels I highly doubt that joining the local spin or dance class is going to have the same effect of reducing stress, some research has highlighted that group exercise can have a negative impact on our well-being. (Ginis, Burke, & Gauvin, 2007) however, further research on personality and physical activity is needed to show overwhelming evidence on either side.

The benefits of joining a sports’ club or organisation, seems to come with its own added extras such as feeling part of a community, enabling yourself to challenge stereotypes or even improving your employability (Haydn, 2016)

Exercise and physical activity is a personal choice, and only ourselves know the reasons we have chosen, some people are aware of the benefits exercise, some people use it purely for weight loss and physical appearance, others use group activities to make social connections and networking.

But for whatever reason you decide one thing is for certain, any exercise is better than no exercise.


  • Comic Relief. (2017). Sport For Change. London: Comic Relief UK.
  • Courneya, K. S., & Hellsten, L.-A. M. (1998). personality correlates of exercise behaviour, motives, barriers and perferences: An application of the five factor model. Personality and Individual Differences, 625 – 633.
  • Friedrich, B., & Mason, O. J. (2018). Qaulitive Evaulation of a Football Intervention for People With Mental Health Problems in the north east of London. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 132-138.
  • Ginis, K. A., Burke, S. M., & Gauvin, L. (2007). Exercising with Others Exacerbates the Negative Effects of Mirrored Enviroments on Sedentary Women’s Feeling States. Psychology and Health, 945-962.
  • Haydn, M. (2016). Capital Gains: Enhancing Social Inclusion and Employablity in East London through ‘Sport for Change’. Bath : University of Bath.
  • Mendes, R., Sousa, N., Garrido, N., Cavaco, B., & Quaresma, L. (2014). Can a Single Session of a Community-Based Group Exercise Program Combining Step Areobics and Bodyweight Restistance Exercise Actuely Reduce Blood Pressaure. Journal of Human Kinetics, 49-56.
  • Mind UK. (2018). How to improve physical activity and sport. London: Mind UK. Retrieved 11 1, 2018, from Mind Uk: https://www.mind.org.uk/media/2976123/how-to-improve-your-wellbeing-through-physical-activity-and-sport.pdf
  • Mustanti, R., & Murley, B. (2016). Community-Based Exercise Programs For Cancer Surviors . Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 25-30.
  • NHS . (2018, 06 11). Live Well Exercise – Benefits. Retrieved 11 1, 2018, from https://www.nhs.uk/: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-health-benefits/
  • Ramon, S. (2013). The Ambiguities of Sport and Community Engagement. Ethos, 21(2), pp. 8-11.
  • Rhodes, P. (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Exercise Psychology. (E. O. Acevedo, Ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rhodes, R., Courneya , K., & Jones, L. (2000). Relationships between extraversion, the theory of planned behaviour, and exercise:the unquie role of extraversion’s activity facet. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, s89 – s89 .
  • Yap, S.-F., & Lee, C. K. (2013, Oct ). Does personality matter in exercise participation . Journal of Consumer Behaviour , 12, 401 – 411. Retrieved 11 1, 2018
  • Yorks, D. M., Frothingham, C. A., & Schuenke, M. D. (2017, November). Effects of Group Fitness Classes on Stress and Quality of Life of Medical Students. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association , 117(11), 17 – 25 . doi:10.7556/jaoa.2017.140


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Exercise reduces the probability of cardiovascular disease a leading killer disease in some countries in the developed world. It also helps keep obesity at bay and enables people across the age divide to maintain flexibility and independence over their lives. Exercise is also beneficial for mental well being in that it reduces the risk of getting depression.

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