Mental health now the ‘main motivation for exercise’

By Tom Walker    21 Sep 2023

54 per cent of people said their main motivation for keeping physically active was to help their mental health /

Improved mental health is now a stronger motivation for Brits to exercise than staying in shape.

More than half of respondents (54 per cent) to a survey of 2,271 people – commissioned by UK Active and conducted by Savanta – said their main motivation for keeping physically active was to help their mental health, while 49 per cent said it was getting in shape.

The survey was published to coincide with National Fitness Day on 20 September, which saw thousands of free activities being hosted in gyms, leisure centres, sports clubs, schools and workplaces across the UK, as well as online.

The findings show people are increasingly aware of the physical and mental benefits of being active, with 86 per cent agreeing that keeping physically active can help prevent various illnesses and injuries from occurring.

This raised awareness is partly attributed to the messaging throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which focused on how people with underlying issues, such as obesity, were more vulnerable to falling seriously ill with the virus, while exercise was among the only activities which allowed people to leave their houses during lockdowns.

Sports Minister, Stuart Andrew said: “Physical activity is hugely beneficial to our mental and physical health, which is why we are aiming to get 3.5 million more people active by 2030.

“We’re determined to drive up participation and that starts with 150 minutes of exercise a week for adults and 60 minutes a day for young people.

“Whether that’s at school, in a gym, on the pitch or court, you can make a huge difference to your health and the health of the nation by getting active.”

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “More people are recognising the incredible mental benefits of being active in their daily lives, not just the physical rewards.

“These findings show the huge opportunity to ease our nation’s mental and physical health crisis if we can raise awareness of the importance of physical activity, alongside better nutrition and ensure everyone has the chance to be active.

“We’re on a mission with other leading organisations in the sector to make the UK the most active nation in Europe.”

Results from the UK Active and Savanta survey also offer a glimpse of how the UK is facing a growing health crisis, with rising NHS waiting lists.

Of those polled, one in four people (23 per cent) said they were currently awaiting treatment on the NHS.

National Fitness Day was first organised in 2011 by Energie Fitness founder, the late Jan Spaticchia, who gifted it to UK Active to run on behalf of the nation. UK Active has subsequently created a Jan Spaticchia award in his honour.