Let’s get physical: Fitness and your mental health

posted by in Living with debt


Physical activity is good for the mind as well as the body

This year for Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation are focusing on the positive effects exercise has on our overall wellbeing. Many of us wish we lived a healthier lifestyle, but putting it into practice can seem easier said than done.

A recent press release from the Mental Health Foundation claims that people would rather do boring housework than work out, and 28% of us exercise less than once a month.

Our Wellbeing guide outlines not just the physical benefits of exercise but the emotional and mental ones too. People who have good mental health are likely to feel more in control of their lives, and their debt. Is there a way to sneak exercise into our busy lives?

The deadly gym membership

According to StatisticBrain, 67% of people with a gym membership will never use it. When I’m working with clients on debt management plans a gym membership will often be a large expense on their budget.

These days joining the gym is often assumed to be the only way of keeping yourself in shape, but there are alternatives;

Walk to work 

I am not a fitness guru by any means but this is one that I have managed to embrace wholeheartedly (except when it’s raining).

It began about five years ago, when I had a different job and spent a large part of my day on buses. I also had a gym membership which was far from cheap, especially considering I made it there twice a week at most.

The obvious solution was to give notice at the gym and start walking to work. All my colleagues thought I was mad, but I saved money, got fitter, lost weight and felt pretty great about myself. My walk is slightly shorter now – about two miles – but it still sets me up for the day and I miss it when it rains.

Check out walkit to find your quickest route to and from work.

I want to ride my bicycle

Another alternative to the daily commute, and a lot more fun. If you don’t own a bike and don’t have a lot of money to invest, try looking for a refurbished one at somewhere like cycle-recycle. I bought a bike for £25 from a bike recycling scheme and although it’s very 80s and pretty heavy, it gets me from A to B.

Encourage your workplace to enter into the Cycle to Work scheme. Co-operatives such as Edinburgh bicycle co-operative are just one organisation that works with companies to provide this.

Run for it

It turns out you don’t need a treadmill to do this. All you need is a pair of trainers and somewhere to run. The scenery even changes as you go along!

If, like me, you’re thoroughly daunted by running you could try the NHS Couch to 5k plan. It’s a free series of podcasts where a friendly lady called Laura guides your running routine. It starts off at an easy pace and increases in difficulty as the weeks progress.

Fitness via DVD bargain bin

There seems to be one of these for everything, from zumba to yoga to aerobics, endorsed by a range of D-list celebrities. The disadvantage of this method is that they can get a little repetitive after a while, but it does mean you can probably find a good selection in your local charity shop.

Don’t forget, you can always find free dance and yoga instruction videos on YouTube!

Free gym equipment and bargains

Become a member of your local Freecycle or Freegle group and you’ll probably find a few choice bits and pieces available such as exercise bikes, weights and the like.

If it has to be a gym full of sweaty machines, then you’re best off with a cheap, non-contract membership that you can end whenever you like. Pure Gym and The Gym both offer these for under £20 a month. It’s also worth a look at your local council facilities; some of them offer very competitive rates.

Check out our keeping fit on a budget blogpost by Sally Crosland for more handy tips!

Let’s get physical

Fitness is so important not just for our bodies but also for our minds. Taking part in regular physical activity increases your self-esteem and can also reduce stress and anxiety. According to the Mental Health Foundation, there’s an approximately 20–30% lower risk of depression and dementia in adults who are physically active.

For more information on what you can do to step up your fitness, download the Mental Health Foundation’s Let’s Get Physical Report.

StepChange Debt Charity and the Mental Health Foundation are working together to raise awareness of the mental health problems affecting thousands across the UK. For more information visit our Debt in Mind page. 


I live in Leeds and have worked for StepChange Debt Charity for two years in the aftercare team. I am also studying part-time for a Masters' degree in writing poetry, so I know all about having to budget! I also enjoys going to gigs and walking.

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