Posted By Westfield Health

Posted on11th August 2015

(updated on 9th May 2024)

There is evidence to show that physical health and mental health conditions co-exist. Depression can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, whereas physical activity has been consistently shown to be the most effective factor for improving mental health.

It is often the case that mental health and physical health are treated separately with healthcare providers. However, where 30% of people with a long-term physical health condition also have a mental health problem, 37.6% of people with a severe mental illness also have a physical condition.

The National Institute of Mental Health found that mental illnesses increase the likelihood of numerous physical conditions. For example, depression increases the likelihood of long-lasting conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Although good physical health improves mental health, this can prove challenging to people experiencing mental health symptoms with one having a domino effect on the other. Our wellbeing index found that the biggest barriers to exercise are:

  • Lack of time (32%)
  • Low energy (31%)
  • Low mood (25%)

Common symptoms of poor mental health include low motivation, low mood and fatigue. This, in turn, makes it more challenging to be active and increases the risk of physical ailments such as a lowered immune system, loss of muscle strength and musculoskeletal issues.

Physical activity and mental health benefits

Active people are more likely to be physically and mentally fit and healthy. Physical activity has been shown to lower depressive and low mood symptoms in people of all ages. Physical activity can take many forms – this can include doing housework, walking or stretching. People who engage in regular physical activity have huge health benefits. This includes a:

  • 30% reduced risk of depression
  • 10% reduced risk of having a stroke or developing heart disease
  • 30-40% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Encouraging your staff to increase their activity levels could help boost their general health and wellbeing. Some things to consider include:

  • Cycle to work schemes
  • Corporate sports teams
  • Fitness-based employee benefits
  • Including an active space in your office
  • Walk during your lunch break or for work meetings.

Further reading:

How to promote physical wellbeing at work

Moving more for mental health

Supporting employee health and wellbeing

There is an increase in the number of days being taken off sick due to mental health. Our Workplace Wellbeing Survey found that 36% of employees took at least one day off work due to poor mental health in 2023. With more than half of employees admitting to being dishonest about taking an absence that was for mental health reasons, it suggests that a metal health stigma remains in the workplace.

60% of employees say they’d feel more motivated at work if their employer took action to support mental wellbeing. It’s important for employers to consider both mental and physical health when approaching presenteeism and workplace absences. For example, if someone is on leave due to musculoskeletal disorders, this could cause a period of low mental health due to pain and being less active. Being a compassionate and empathetic employer should be a priority in providing support.

Using a tailored employee assistance programme (EAP) towards your employees can provide access to a number of support resources, including a 24/7 Doctorline, 24 hours advice and information line and valuable counselling services, enabling staff to speak to someone in confidence about their physical and mental health.

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