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Mental Health Awareness Week 2024: Is ‘moving for mental health’ a privilege?

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Bath Mind’s Diversity and Inclusion Lead, Liz, looks at this year’s theme of movement and delves at the intersection between physical activity and mental health.

What is Mental Health Awareness Week?

Mental Health Awareness Week was started in 2001 as a UK-wide initiative to make mental health a national priority. The week is about tackling the stigma often associated with mental health by opening the conversation to improve public understanding of the outcomes for people with mental health conditions.

Each year, a different theme is chosen as a focus for the campaign and for 2024 (13th – 19th May) the theme is ‘Moving for Mental Health’, a theme that highlights the important connection between our physical and mental health.

How are movement and mental health connected?

Movement, or physical activity, is important for both our physical and mental health. This can include structured exercises such as running, swimming or playing a team sport but also includes any movement that your body does that uses energy, such as cooking and cleaning.

The NHS recommends adults aged 19–64 years should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity weekly, stating a range of benefits from this including:

  • Improving stress levels, sleep quality and mood
  • Reducing the risk of major illnesses such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer
  • Improving heart, muscle, and bone health
  • Increasing self-esteem and mood
  • Boosting sleep quality and energy levels
  • Increasing social interaction
  • Connecting to nature

What are the barriers to movement?

Despite many of us being aware of the benefits of physical activity, there are many barriers that prevent individuals, particularly those from marginalised backgrounds, from being active.

Our modern lives mean that many of us are much less active than our ancestors, with many people working sedentary jobs and leading busy lives that feel like there is little space of for the addition of extra movement.

With just over two-thirds of UK adults and under half of UK children (67% and 47% respectively) meeting the guidelines for physical activity, it is evident that there are still many of us who struggle to get out 150 minutes of weekly exercise.

On top of this, barriers to physical activity can be even more apparent for people from marginalised backgrounds, suggesting that exercise is a privilege that not everyone can access.

Factors such as physical disabilities, mental health conditions, unsafe neighbourhoods, lack of resources, age-related limitations, fear of judgment, and time constraints all contribute to the inability of many of us to incorporate movement into our lives.

Barriers to movement for marginalised communities

The term ‘marginalised community’ refers to people who face social, economic, and political disadvantages (i.e., people of colour, people living in socio-economic deprivation and the LGBTQ+ Community, older people, disabled people, unhoused people, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, neurodiverse people, amongst other socially disadvantaged groups).

Some structural barriers at play include:

  • Limited access to safe spaces such as well-lit areas, maintained recreational grounds and parks.
  • Lack of physical accessibility– lack of inclusive design in infrastructure such as no ramps, narrow doorways and lifts.
  • Language barriers– lack of cultural competency and languages spoken to access resources and sports clubs.
  • Economic deprivation
  • Underrepresentation in sports
  • Discrimination and stigma

What is the impact of limited access to movement for marginalised groups?

While mental health challenges can affect anyone, some groups are more likely to experience them. These include:

  • People who identify as LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ people are between 2–3 times more likely than heterosexual people to report having a mental health problem in England.
  • Black or Black British people. 23% of Black or Black British people will experience a common mental health problem in any given week. This compares to 17% of White British people.
  • Young women aged 16-24. Over a quarter (26%) of young women aged between 16–24 years old report having a common mental health problem in any given week. This compares to 17% of adults. And this number has been going up.
  • Around 40% of people in England who have overlapping problems including homelessness, substance misuse and contact with the criminal justice system in any given year also have a mental health problem

It’s important to know that your identity does not give you mental health problems. Causes of mental ill health can be very complicated. Higher risk for these groups is linked to several factors, including:

  • facing social inequality and disadvantage
  • facing discrimination and social exclusion
  • going through traumatic experiences
  • differences in physical health

Therefore, the impact on marginalised communities is two-fold; not only are they disproportionately more likely to experience mental health difficulties, but they also face barriers in accessing the mental health benefits offered by movement.

How can we make movement inclusive?

You don’t have to be pumping iron in the gym or running for miles and miles (unless you enjoy that of course!) to reap the benefits of movement.

To ensure that people from marginalised groups are able to be physically active, we need to tackle some of the systemic barriers mentioned above.

We can help to reduce barriers to physical access by:

  • Offering accessible facilities
  • Creating affordable or free sports activities
  • Create safe and culturally competent services
  • Foster welcoming and inclusive environments

Additionally, here are some tips for making physical activity more accessible for all so that we can all incorporate a little more movement into our lives:

  • Keep it simple. Incorporate small movements into your daily routine, such as taking a 10-minute stretch when you wake up, parking slightly further away from your office or walking up the stairs rather than the escalator all add up.
  • Be accessible. The NHS has some great resources on accessible exercise.
  • Get social. Find a friend, family member or colleague to move with. Whether going on a lunchtime walk or playing a team sport, it can help you enjoy what you are doing.
  • Be realistic. Set reasonable expectations and manageable goals.
  • Find the freebies. Check out online resources and gym classes at places like NHS’s fitness studio and We Are Undefeatable – you can do these in the comfort of your own home!
  • Get outside. Whether it’s going for run in your local park before work, going for a lunchtime walk or stretching in your garden or on your balcony, moving outside gives your movement an additional boost.
  • Keep it fun! Most importantly, movement should be fun and something you enjoy!

Safe and Inclusive Space

There are some national organisations that provide support for people from different groups:

  • We are Undefeatable and Every Body Moves have information, classes and search tools for disabled people who want to be more physically active. 
  • Pride Sports has an LGBT+ sports club finder for finding inclusive clubs.
  • Many Age UK centres run classes for people aged over 50. These classes focus on gentle exercise, and welcome people with different mobility and health needs.
  • This Girl Can offers information and support for anyone who identifies as a woman, who wants to engage in physical activity.

If these organisations don’t offer the support you need, there may be local support available. For example, there are lots of local groups available for different communities, such as for people from Black or Asian backgrounds. You can search for local groups online. Or they may be advertised in places like gyms, leisure centres or community centres. 


Movement is not only beneficial for our physical health, but it can incredibly be transformative for our mental health too.

Physical activity, in the way we tend to understand it as structured exercise, can be seen as a privilege reserved only for those who have time, space and money to go to luxurious gym spaces and live in safe, well-maintained neighbours. Even then, many of us live busy lives, so finding time to move can be difficult.

The barriers to movement are even more apparent for people from marginalised backgrounds such as people of colour, disabled people and members of the LGBTQ+ community amongst other groups who are socially disadvantaged.

Movement looks different for everyone. So, as we mark Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s celebrate our differences and commit to addressing some of the structural inequalities at play so that we all (especially marginalised communities) can have the privilege of being physically active and in turn, boost our mental health.

Posted on: 9th May 2024

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