Physical Wellbeing and Mental Wellbeing

Looking after your physical wellbeing is not only important for your physical health itself, or because good physical wellbeing will benefit your academic performance. Your physical wellbeing and your lifestyle will also have an impact on your mental wellbeing. 

Studies among university students have shown that sleep quality, physical activity and substance use were strong predictors of mental wellbeing [1]. 

Other studies have demonstrated a causal relationship between good mental wellbeing and regularly consuming a healthy diet – in particular eating the recommended amount of fresh fruit and vegetables [2]. By contrast, a systematic review conducted by O’Neil et al. (2014) [3] showed that an unhealthy diet (including high levels of saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and processed food) is linked to poorer mental health.

Research has also shown that physical activity can improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety and help prevent mental health problems [4]; [5]; [6]. While higher intensity exercise has been shown to be particularly helpful, recent research has suggested that even low intensity activity, performed regularly, can be beneficial for your mental health [4]. This means that just getting up from your desk to go for a walk or clean the house can help to raise your mood and protect against mental ill health.

Exercise can also help if you are experiencing problems with your mental health or have been diagnosed with a mental illness. 

In addition to these more traditional ways of thinking about physical wellbeing, some recent research has also demonstrated that the way we engage with our physical environment can impact on our mental wellbeing. For instance, time spent in nature, focussing on our surroundings, has been shown to have beneficial effects on mood and mental wellbeing [7].

Taking all of this into account, it is clear that paying attention to your physical wellbeing can have multiple benefits for you as a PGR student. Taking time to attend to your physical health can boost your mood, protect against mental ill health, help you to maintain motivation and energy and ensure that you stay physically healthy [8]. This will help you to work consistently and have good wellbeing throughout your degree.

Video Resources

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Prof. Tal Ben-Shahar (Harvard University) Discusses Maintaining Wellbeing

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PGR Students Discuss the Importance of Psychical Activity and Wellbeing



Ridner SL, Newton KS, Staten RR, Crawford TN, Hall LA. Predictors of well-being among college students. J Am Coll Heal. 2016 Feb 17;64(2):116–24.


Stranges S, Samaraweera PC, Taggart F, Kandala NB, Stewart-Brown S. Major health-related behaviours and mental well-being in the general population: The health survey for England. BMJ Open. 2014;4(9).


O’Neil A, Quirk SE, Housden S, Brennan SL, Williams LJ, Pasco JA, et al. Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: A systematic review. Vol. 104, American Journal of Public Health. American Public Health Association Inc.; 2014. p. e31–42.


Choi KW, Chen CY, Stein MB, Klimentidis YC, Wang MJ, Koenen KC, Smoller JW. Assessment of Bidirectional Relationships Between Physical Activity and Depression Among Adults: A 2-Sample Mendelian Randomization Study. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019 Apr 01; 76(4):399-408. PMID: 30673066.


Kanning M, Schlicht W. Be active and become happy: An ecological momentary assessment of physical activity and mood. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2010;32(2):253–61.


Salmon P. Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: A unifying theory. Clin Psychol Rev. 2001;21(1):33–61.


Richardson M, Cormack A, McRobert L, Underhill R. 30 days wild: Development and evaluation of a large-scale nature engagement campaign to improve well-being. PLoS One. 2016 Feb 1;11(2).


Haas J, Baber M, Byrom N, Meade L, Nouri-Aria K. Changes in student physical health behaviour: an opportunity to turn the concept of a Healthy University into a reality. Perspectives in public health. 2018 Nov;138(6):316-24.


Lee Ridner S, Karen S. Newton, Ruth R. Staten, Timothy N. Crawford & Lynne A. Hall (2016) Predictors of well-being among college students, Journal of American College Health, 64:2, 116-124, DOI: 10.1080/07448481.2015.1085057