Exercise for mental health – The 30 minute challenge

I’m one, like many, that struggles to get into the habit of exercising. I enjoy it when I do it. Running is my thing. It makes me feel really good afterwards – a sense of achievement and my body feels good. Exercise is great for mental health. If you want to read more about the benefits go to this link. But regardless of the benefits I find I prioritise other things above exercising, plus I really struggle with the motivation to get going. So although I love to run, I’m not actually sure when I last went out for one! This article is for people like me. We know exercise is good for us. So how can we get into the habit of exercising in a way that makes us feel good?

A friend of mine came up with an idea a few years ago, to try to get more exercise in her life. She got me to try it as well. It was a really simple idea, but actually worked really well. The wonderful thing about my friend’s idea is that it is completely adaptable so you can choose whatever kind of exercise works for you. Also, it involves a social element. Great for mental health! So here’s how the 30 minute challenge works.

The 30 minute challenge involves committing to 30 minutes of proactive movement a day. Movement could mean simply stretching or walking or it could mean cardio such as time at the gym. It’s very flexible. Importantly, you should commit to the challenge with at least one other person.

Sounds simple? Because it is! Here’s how it works:

Find a friend

This is a really important part of the challenge. It works well because you are effectively accountable to another person. Your friend will be the person you check in with day to day. You might ask about their chosen activity. You might send a quick photo or message about yours. You’re friend is who will help you keep up the commitment. So find a friend. It could also be a group of people. It doesn’t have to be someone local to where you live. Though if it is someone that you want to exercise with in person, then it can be. Find someone who is also looking to increase exercise in their life and wants to take up the challenge.


This sounds like an obvious point, but its worth considering. This is a lifestyle change. The flexibility in the plan means that you might not physically be doing lots more, as there might be activities you already do that you can count. But it is proactive. And it’s every day. And this means its a commitment. If it helps for you and your friend to have a mutually agreed start date, then do this. If you want to set reminders on your phone or agree to check in with your friend at specific times then go for it. The important thing is that you think about what you will need to put in place, in order to commit.

Do a little planning

This isn’t about having a structured plan for every day. But it’s worth thinking about why you’re doing this. Are you looking to reduce anxiety or depression? Are you wanting to get fit for a specific event? Or to lose weight? Are you simply wanting to take better care of your physical and mental health? Consider what you’re wanting from this, and this will help you plan how you’re going to do it.

When you have an idea of what you’re want, share it with your friend. Think together about what you might need. If this is about meeting a fitness goal you might want to enlist some professional help. Services such as Journey to Wellness is a great example of a place to start. If you consult with a personal trainer like Deborah you can discuss your goals and get help to plan in some activities to your week that will fit with these.

Get inspired

The lovely thing about this idea is its flexibility. You can include the walk to the bus stop for the school run if you want to. It has to be 30 minutes of continuous movement. But it’s designed so that this should be achievable every day, even with the pressures of work and life. For this to be something you enjoy, try to add in some variety, and some activities that you are excited by. So if you love nature, then plan in some hiking. If you want to try something new, then look into taking up a different sport. We might be a bit more limited at the moment with coronavirus, but there are still lots of ways to get inspired. Look at exercise videos online. Think about what makes you feel good.

Support each other

Once you get started, keep checking in with your friend. From experience, I know there will be days when you don’t want to do anything, or it’s cold outside and you feel uninspired. On these days, reach out. And when your friend is feeling the same, try to give ideas, encouragement and humour. When you’ve achieved your 30 minutes, it’s often useful to reflect on your mood. Exercise often makes us feel better and noting this helps with motivation for next time.

If and when you have a day where you don’t manage 30 minutes, don’t worry. This is not meant to be a guilt trip, or an added pressure. This is meant to be positive, healthy and enjoyable. So be gentle on yourself, and start again tomorrow.

I hope this has inspired you to try the 30 minute challenge. It’s about self-care above all else, so find a friend, get inspired, and get started. And let me know how it goes!

If you would like more help to make lifestyle changes that support positive mental health then please get in touch. Or if you would like to find out more about Imagine and what we do, take a look at our website.

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