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Mental health

Why we invest in mental health

There’s plenty of evidence that taking part in physical activity can have a profound and positive impact on mental wellbeing. 

Being physically active can improve mood, decrease the chance of depression and anxiety and lead to a better and more balanced lifestyle. 

Because of this, the government’s Sporting Future strategy put mental health at its heart, and we’ve invested in projects across the country – from small community programmes to regional and national pilots.

To date, we’ve invested more than £8 million of exchequer and National Lottery funding in projects related to mental health. 

Young girls working on group project

How physical activity helps mental health

There are various ways that physical activity helps mental health, including:

Improved mood 

Studies show that physical activity has a positive impact on our mood. One study asked people to rate their mood after a period of exercise (i.e. walking or gardening) and after inactivity (i.e. reading a book). Researchers found that people felt more awake, calmer and more content after physical activity. 

For more information about the study, please see the Mental Health Foundation website.

Reduced stress

Being regularly active is shown to have a beneficial impact on alleviating stress. It can help manage stressful lifestyles and can help us make better decisions when under pressure. 

Research on working adults shows that active people tend to have lower stress rates compared to those who are less active.

Increased self-esteem 

Physical activity has a big impact on our self-esteem – that’s how we feel about ourselves and our perceived self-worth. 

This is a key indicator of mental wellbeing. People with improved self-esteem can cope better with stress and improves relationships with others.

Depression and anxiety 

Exercise has been described as a “wonder drug” in preventing and managing mental health. Many GPs now prescribe physical activity for depression, either on its own or together with other treatments. 

It’s effective at both preventing onset of depression and managing symptoms.

Three people talking seated

Our partnerships with mental health charities

We’re working with mental health charities to make a difference to the lives of people across the country.


Since 2014, we’ve built a powerful partnership with the national charity Mind. The collaboration is working in a variety of ways to encourage people to get active to improve their mental health. 

  • Get Set to Go

    We’ve invested £3m of National Lottery funding into Mind’s Get Set to Go programme.

    Lack of confidence, anxiety and fatigue are just some of the barriers that prevent people living with mental health problems from getting active. 

    The programme is helping people that live with mental health problems to overcome the barriers they face when getting active. 

    More than 3,500 people with mental health problems have taken part in specially designed physical activity projects across 18 places in England. 

    The aim is to provide quality experiences to those wanting to get active. Friendly faces that know what it’s like to live with mental health problems have played a key part in developing the programme – and their encouragement is vital in helping people make that crucial jump from curiosity to activity. 

    Mind’s evaluation worked with over 1,000 local and digital participants to track their progress, making this the largest ever study of its kind. 

    Findings show that physical activity has an important role to play in building resilience, enabling and supporting mental health recovery and tackling stigma and discrimination.

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  • Elefriends

    Elefriends is an online peer support platform, which is a free and supportive space where individuals can link up with others, sharing tips, ideas and encouragement on how to get active. The site also hosts films and other content that is designed to support someone to be more active. 

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  • Sector support

    Mind has created a number of guides and training resources for the physical activity and mental health sectors to support them to help those with a mental health condition be more physically active.

    Their Mental Health and Physical Activity Toolkit aims to increase the number of sport, physical activity and mental health providers who are equipped with the knowledge and skills to support and engage people experiencing mental health problems in physical activity.

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Rethink Mental Illness

  • The Richmond Group of Charities

    We’ve invested £300,000 of National Lottery funding to support Rethink Mental Illness through our work with the Richmond Group of Charities.

    Rethink support people with more severe mental health problems, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, through their network of peer support groups. 

    Recognising the many benefits that being active can have on both physical and mental health, Rethink is working on a three-year project to explore how physical activity can be successfully embedded into its peer support groups. 

    A toolkit has been developed to support the volunteer group co-ordinators, providing them with the resources and confidence to introduce activity into their sessions.

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Other resources

You can download the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation on the Sport and Recreation Alliance's website

For more information on the link between physical activity and mental health, or for advice about looking after your own mental health, click here

And if you’re interested in learning more about our current mental health work streams, please email us

Case studies

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