Taking regular exercise has many benefits for our physical health - it can help us to manage our weight, reduce the risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure. It's very important for our mental health as well.
Find out how exercising can improve your mood, what exercise is recommended and how you can get involved in different groups and activities in Leeds.
What you will learn in this section:
Why is exercise good for my mental health?
Improving your physical wellbeing can help you feel better about yourself. It can also improve concentration and energy levels, which can both be affected by worrying and feeling anxious. Exercise also produces endorphins - chemicals produced naturally by the body which can boost your mood and improve your ability to sleep.
In the Anxiety section we explored the primitive human response known as 'Flight or fight' which is designed to help us deal with a possible danger or threat. When the response is triggered blood flow to the muscles increases as extra energy is needed to help us run or fight. If unreleased, this energy can cause tension in our muscles. There are lots of great ways of exercising which can help you let off a little steam and restore your mind and body to a much calmer state. Some people like to take a gentle walk in the park, while others find a run can help clear their head. Other people enjoy team sports such as playing a game of football. Whatever activities you prefer, remember, though, that it's important to combine exercise with breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques for effects to be longer lasting.
Can exercise help my health if I'm pregnant?
If you are pregnant keeping active and taking some gentle exercise during your pregnancy can really boost your wellbeing. Exercise like swimming, a pregnancy yoga class or walking can all be great forms of exercise. You can find more information and guidance about taking exercise in pregnancy on the NHS Choices website.
If you are pregnant or unsure about your physical health check with your GP before starting to exercise.
What type of exercise should I be doing?
To stay healthy or improve health, adults need to do two types of physical activity each week: aerobic and strength exercises. It also helps if we can be active daily. NHS Choices has recommendations for different age groups and whether you choose to do moderate or vigorous aerobic exercise.
They recommend that we do strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles: legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.
For aerobic activity, you could decide to do moderate exercise, such as cycling or brisk walking, for 150 minutes each week, split into 30 minutes over five days or 10 or 15 minutes chunks across each day. Or you might decide that you'd rather have vigorous activity, such as running or playing tennis.If you're new to exercise, you could build up slowly and try to do activities that you'll enjoy or can share with other people. If you are unsure about your physical health, check with your GP before starting to exercise.
How can I make changes and exercise more?
If you want to make changes by exercising more, but don't know where to start, you might find using our Positive Change Plan helpful. You can use the Plan to make changes gradually by setting goals, creating ideas to achieve your goals, planning the steps you want to take and reviewing how you're doing.
One You Leeds offers a range of free physical activity classes and taster sessions.
Leeds Let's Get Active supports people in Leeds to become active through low cost access to leisure centres and a timetable of community sports and activities including football, swimming and zumba groups. You can find a timetable of Leeds Let's Get Active walking group here, or, go to the Walking for Health website which has a postcode finder for your nearest walks.
A men-only football group meets on Tuesdays from 2-3pm at Middleton Leisure Centre, specifically for men experiencing depression, anxiety or any other problem with their mental health. You do not need to be a mental health service user to join. Sessions are run by Leeds Let's Get Active and cost £3.30. Contact: dominic.Ayton@leeds.gov.uk
Mental Health Day Opportunities offers a service to adults who would like to improve their mental wellbeing, increase their independence and connect with their community. The service helps people identify their strengths and build on these to improve their life. People can access exercise and physical activities through this service. See our page about the service to find out more.
#runandtalk is a social running group for anyone who wants to improve their mental wellbeing through running. Joining the group could also be helpful for people with mild to moderate anxiety or depression. The group is supported by a local running club, Hyde Park Harriers, and has seven mental health ambassadors with lived experience of mental health issues and conditions, who can provide a listening ear in a supportive, non-judgemental environment.
Run Talk Run aims to make both running and mental health support less intimidating and more accessible. It's a free, weekly 5km gentle jog, but at the forefront of the run is support - the group aims to be a safe space to talk about how you're really doing. Before every run there is a window of time to meet the other runners and say hello to the run leader. The Leeds group runs from Anytime Fitness in Bridgewater Place at 6pm on Mondays. You can only join by downloading the MyCrew app - see the Run Talk Run website for details.
Mental Health Mates combines a walking group with peer support. They have volunteers running walks across the country, and walkers get a chance to chat while having a gentle walk in a public area or park. You can find out more about their walks in Leeds on their website or social media.
Climb Alongside Mental Health (C/A/M) promotes the positive effects of rock climbing to help with mental health. You'll need to be referred by your GP or other healthcare professional. You can find all the detail on the C/A/M website. In Leeds, The Climbing Lab in Kirkstall is one of the participating organisations. Contact other climbing walls to find out they're part of the scheme.
Mentally Healthy Leeds swimming group - for women ans non-binary people aged 16-24. The group is free to attend and you can find out more by contacting Belinda - call: 0113 248 4880 or email email@example.com.
Feel Good Factor is a charity based in Chapeltown which provides a range of community health and wellbeing activities for people living in Chapeltown and Harehills, including art courses, walking and gardening groups and physical activities.
East Leeds Health for All Project is a Healthy Living Service in the heart of Burmantofts in Lincoln Green.
Seacroft Wheelers is a friendly cycling club based in the east of Leeds which welcomes all riders from raw beginners to competitive racers.
The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) Hollybush in Kirkstall is a great place to get outdoors and get some exercise. They have wildlife walks, Green Gym gardening groups at locations throughout the city and a number of other volunteer opportunities, workshops and short courses throughout the year. You can find upcoming activities on TCV Hollybush's website and contact them by calling 0113 239 9924 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The Urban Task Force project from New Wortley Community Centre is an outdoor community and environmental project. It aims to help people feel less isolated, as well as boosting physical and mental wellbeing. The group meets twice weekly and is for anyone aged 18+ living in the Wortley or Armley area. You can download a flyer here. If you are interested in the outdoors, gardening and lots more, contact Mike Sims by calling 0747 241 5387 or emailing email@example.com.
Better Together is a healthy communities, healthy lives project across inner South Leeds, including physical activity sessions such as Tai Chi, walk and talk and men or women only exercise groups. Look for a What's On Guide on the website to find out current activities and who to contact.
FIT LEEDS is a free fitness programme run by the Leeds United Foundation for men aged from 35 to 65. It will support those who are currently inactive and would benefit from becoming more active but are struggling due to a number of different reasons. The course is new in January 2020 and will run for 12 weeks with two-hour sessions each week. You can find out more on Leeds United's website and find out about being referred by contacting Gary by emailing Gary.Waddington@leedsunited.com or calling 0113 367 6598.
Try Club is run by Leeds Rhinos Foundation for men aged 18 and over who want to eat better, do more exercise and lose weight. The 12-week course is free, but you must have a Body Mass Index of 25 or over. See their website for how to refer yourself or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to express an interest.
Rhinos Active Social is run by Leeds Rhinos Foundation for people aged over 55. It offers a friendly, casual atmosphere where members can enjoy socialising with peers and physical activity sessions such as beginner's yoga, tai chi, boccia and chair-based aerobics. It runs on Tuesdays from 10:30am-12:30pm at Emerald Headingley Stadium, LS6 3BR or Wednesdays from 10am-12pm at OPAL Welcome In Community Centre, 55 Bedford Drive, LS16 6DJ. For more information contact email@example.com.
Back Onside is run by Leeds Rhinos Foundation and is designed to encourage men in Leeds to get back to enjoying exercise, through the support of trained health professionals and former players. There are 10 weekly sessions combining multi-sports activities, including rugby and football, as well as team-building exercises. It's predominantly aimed at men aged 35-64, but is open to all age groups and fitness levels and is free to join. Contact Leeds Rhinos Foundation for more information by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 07710 094 019.
Guiseley Community Foundation run free men's football and chat sessions in Nethermoor Park.
Get Set Leeds is a website that encourages people to get active and share their stories.
We Are Undefeatable is a website that encourages people with long-term health conditions to get active. It includes personal stories, ideas for activities and tips for how to get started.
The NHS Choices website has physical activity guidelines for adults, a fitness self-assessment and lots more.
You can find out more about Community Sport from Leeds City Council. The website includes links to activities, disabled sport, LGBT sports clubs, exercise groups for older people and lots more.
Walking can be a good way of getting some exercise and getting out for fresh air. If you want to plan walks around the local area, Leeds City Council's website has information about places to walk, including leaflets you can download. If you enjoy walking, but would rather be with a group, there are walking groups and guided walks available in Leeds with Walking for Health.
You can find a list of parks around Leeds on the Leeds City Council website. There are over 60 parks around Leeds and they can be a great place to have a walk. Several parks now have outdoor gym equipment called 'fitness zones' installed. They're proving a popular way to exercise, so the numbers are expected to grow.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has information about physical activity and mental health.
You can find out about physical activity, sport and mental health on the Mind website. There's a free leaflet you can download, a video with tips on getting active and even tips on choosing your activity and overcoming barriers.
The Mental Health Foundation has a leaflet called How to look after your mental health using exercise, which you can read online or download for free. It lists all the positive impacts of exercise as well as tips to get active.