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Guidelines for 'good practice'

In the review of the evidence on physical activity and mental health, Whitelaw et al outline from their research ‘the generalised theoretical principles of good practice’(1):

  • Offer a variety of different types of activity
  • Allow individuals to choose
  • Encourage individuals to set themselves realistic goals
  • Emphasize ‘enjoyment’ and immediate benefits and the positive experience rather than emphasising the longer-term benefits
  • Allow or encourage activities to be carried out with friends, family members or peers
  • Ensure, where possible, good local access to opportunities and facilities
  • Encourage the  development of good attitudes and psychological skills, not just physical ones (e.g. self-efficacy)
  • Provide high quality leaders who know how to ensure that people get the best mental well-being and health benefits from exercise.

Whitelaw et all also provide an overview of gender differences and physical activity. They argue that while boys and girls could both gain benefits to their mental well-being from increased physical activity there are distinct differences in attitudes and motivation and so in any recommendations for involvement. (2) For example, boys are more likely to be attracted to participating in vigorous sporting activities than girls. Also:

  • Girls tend to be more focused on achieving goals, particularly through co-operation, rather than on winning and losing.
  • Girls are less attracted to competitive team sports and more to individuals sports such as swimming
  • Girls are less likely to say that winning at sport makes them feel happy about themselves
  • Participating in sport appears to have a more important impact on boys’ mental well-being.


1. Whitelaw, Sandy, Swift, Jan, Goodwin Avril, Clark, Darren, Physical Activity and Mental Health: the role of physical activiy in promoting mental wellbeing and preventing mental health problems. An evidence briefing published by NHS Health Scotland, 2008. Page 12.

2. As above, page 50. 

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