Muscling up on Mental Health: Benefits of Physical Activity on our Mental Health

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 “Health does not just mean the absence of sickness. Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of diseases and infirmity. It means you feel good all around” (Fountain and Goodwin, 1996). This statement proves true.  We cannot have overall good health without having good physical, mental and social health. They all influence each other. How many times have you seen it? A ‘perfectly physically fit’ individual; however very poor social or mental health? Do you remember the famous Robin Williams? He was very sociable; however, he battled depression for some time before taking his own life. For any individual to be termed ‘healthy’, he/she would need to not only be free of diseases but also have good mental, physical and social wellbeing.

As defined by the World Health Organization, mental health is as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential; can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and negative moods and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. As a physical education teacher and a track and field coach, I can agree that exercise has been shown to help alleviate or reduce symptoms or feelings of low self-esteem and social withdrawal for different individuals, both children and adults. Individuals have expressed that regular physical activities helps them to keep their mental skills sharp as they aged. These include critical thinking, learning and using good judgement within their homes and work environment. They realized that exercise is very important so they see it fit to join local gyms in the community so that they can improve on their physical and mental health and in doing so it also helps them to reduce or maintain their body weight or physique.

The Importance of Physical Education in High schools for all Grade Levels (7-11)

In 2017,  the Youth and Information Minister mandated the inclusion of a physical education programme at all levels. He stated that they must have a programme of exercise that promotes good healthy lifestyle for all grade levels. From Grade 7through to 13 and certainly at the early childhood institutions. Mr. Christopher Tufton in an article in the Jamaica Observer noted that there is a high level of obesity with nearly 42% of the population considered obese. Mr. Tufton thought this was very worrying and was, therefore, in support of the physical activity in schools.

It is required for all students to be engaged in physical education in schools and also extra curricula activities. Therefore, the subject should be a part of every schools’ curriculum and should be a compulsory subject for all students. Physical education in high school is essential and offers many benefits, inter alia, the development of motor skills, the enhancement of reflexes, hand-eye coordination that helps in the development of a healthy body posture and of course, students learn the importance of maintaining good physical and mental health.

Physical education classes are very important because it helps students to become aware of a healthy lifestyle; students also retain a higher level of knowledge as a result of the overall health. This knowledge can help them to make wise decisions concerning their safety, health and wellbeing. Student athletes have expressed that because of their involvement in physical activities in our school they are more able to concentrate on their academics. I have seen where 75% of my track and field students finished in the top five of their classes each school term. These student athletes are engaged in training at least four days of the week for an hour and a half or two each day. Physical education is a good way of teaching your children the need of exercising on a daily basis. Therefore, they will acclimatize to the habit of exercising which will spill over into adulthood which in the long run will help with good mental health.

Mental and Physical Health

As stated above, mental health and physical health should not be thought of as separate because poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental problems and vice versa.  Factors that can contribute to poor mental health are childhood abuse, trauma, neglect, social isolation or loneliness, experiencing discrimination and stigma, poverty or debt, bereavement (losing someone close to you) and severe or long-term stress.

Mental health helps individuals to cope with physical health conditions in a manner that is deemed more productive. An individual who takes part in physical activity is capable of taking care of him/herself and of others in an effective and efficient manner. Mental health is very important because it allows people to realize their full potential. When individuals are mentally strong, they are better able to overcome the day to day struggles that we face in society, as they tend to remain optimistic in spite of the odds.

How Mental Health Affects Physical Health

There are various ways in which poor mental health has been shown to be detrimental to physical health. In an article entitled ‘Mental Health for All’, it was revealed that people with the highest level of self-rated distress (compared to lowest rates of distress) were 32% more likely to have died from cancer. Depression has been found to be associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Schizophrenia is associated with double the risk of death from respiratory disease. This is because people with mental health conditions are less likely to receive the physical healthcare to which they are entitled. Physical activity in any form is a great way to keep you physically healthy as well as improving your mental wellbeing. Research has shown that doing exercise influences the release and uptake of feel-good chemicals called endorphins in the brain. Even a short burst of 10 minutes brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood.

Benefits of Physical Activity on our Mental Health

Participating in physical activities three to five times per week for at least 30 minutes can improve mental health. There are benefits that can be derived from been physically active which can help with mental health. It is proven that exercise also helps your mental well-being. Some of these benefits are as follows:

  • It is stimulating and enjoyable. It peps you up.
  • It relieves tension and stress, which can cause high blood pressure and heart disease. A lively game or workout helps you get rid of the tension from a difficult day.
  • It gets rid of aggression. You can take out angry feelings on a ball or bike pedals instead of a person.
  • It helps you forget your problems. When you think about them later, they won’t seem so bad.
  • It relieves boredom and provides a challenge.
  • It helps you sleep better, so you feel more rested.
  • If you look and feel better your confidence increases.

In concluding, mental illness is one to which no one is immune. It therefore means that a person’s age, sex, socioeconomic background and even his/her race is no match for this disorder. This disease is so prevalent and devastating at times, it requires a very effective and efficient social support system. This support may come in the form of those who are very close to us, including our friends and families. The stigma of mental health is, however, very real and at times it is because of this stigma that persons in this dilemma are left untreated and uncared for. It is for us as individuals, in whatever category of service that we offer, to help and break this stigma and allow persons living with mental health issues or even the wider public to become sensitized and knowledgeable about this mayhem. In the long run, this should be of immense benefits since knowledge and information will always help to curb and correct most of today’s ailments.




Fountain, S., & Goodwin, L. (2014). Pe to 16 for the Caribbean. Oxford: OUP Oxford.


5 Mental Benefits of Exercise (n.d) Retrieved on December 16, 2019. Retrieved from www.waldennu.edu:five


What is Mental Health (n.d) Retrieved on December 15, 2019. Retrieved from www.mentalhealth.org.uk


Exercise for Mental Health (2006) Retrieved on December 15, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/


Jamaica Observer September 19, 2017 Education Ministry to make Physical Education mandatory for Schools


Profile of Writer

Mrs. Megan Wilson-Copeland is a Physical Education and Science Teacher with over 10 years’ experience. She also holds the positions of Acting Assistant Head of Science and Physical Education Department at the Alphansus Davis High School formerly the Spalding High School. She is also an IAAF Level 1 Coach in Track and Field. Mrs. Wilson-Copeland received her formal education from the Augustana University, USA where she read for her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Physical Education. Mrs. Wilson-Copeland has served as National Junior Coach where she has help to lead a number of student athletes to winning championships both locally and internationally. These includes students who would have participated in Carifita Games, Girls Camps, World Youth Games and Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games and others. Mrs. Wilson-Copeland is trained in both First Aid and CPR and is well known for being able to motivate her students to excel not only in sports or school but also in life. Mrs. Wilson-Copeland is married to Sharnieal Copeland lecturer at the Knox Community College who is also a sports fanatic. They share two boys Javier and Tashawn Copeland.

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