Mental wellbeing

Physical activity can reduce stress and anxiety, with the mastering of new skills often increasing confidence and self-esteem

Retired people laughing as they walk

Good mental wellbeing outcomes are every bit as important as the physical benefits from taking part in sport, and evidence is clear on the mental as well as physical health benefits of meeting Chief Medical Officer (CMO) guidelines. But less is known about the precise links between mental wellbeing and sporting behaviours. Placing mental wellbeing at the heart of our strategy ensures that more evidence is collected and government and its agencies will work with the new What Works Centre for Wellbeing among other initiatives to fill these gaps.

The industry standard for measuring the effectiveness of mental wellbeing is the percentage of the population reporting positive subjective wellbeing. To help us measure this, we'll use our Active Lives Adult Survey

Research has shown that exercise can be as effective as anti-depressants for those with mild clinical depression.


There is much evidence that physical activity contributes to enjoyment and happiness, and more broadly to life satisfaction, with the element of social interaction often cited as central to this.

Volunteers and sports fans also experience increased life satisfaction, associated with having a sense of purpose and pride.

Self-esteem and confidence are known to increase through short or long term participation or volunteering, because of the opportunity to develop new skills and relationships.

There is general agreement that sport and physical activity has the potential to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, with most evidence on this focusing on specific subgroups. Other positive outcomes include improved cognitive functioning, benefits for people with dementia, and impacts around emotion regulation.

Bearing in mind the benefits that physical activity can have on mental wellbeing, we're fully supportive of any organisation that wishes to undertake their own project to increase mental wellbeing in their community.


We have created a tool to help evaluate the effectiveness of your own mental wellbeing project. The Sport England evaluation framework has been developed to evaluate funding streams and projects effectively and help you get maximum value from measurement and evaluation (M&E).

It's designed to provide users with easy-to-follow guidance and resources to help you develop your own approach to measuring and evaluating work undertaken. Building the six steps of the framework into programme planning and implementation will assist users in getting the most from M&E.


  • Enjoyment and happiness
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Reduced anxiety, stress and depression
  • Improved cognitive functions
  • Dementia prevention and treatment.


  • Organised social interaction
  • Encouraging physical activity outdoors
  • Interventions involving physical activity alongside other social support (eg to develop skills and relationships that build self esteem).

Get in touch

Details of our available funds can be found here.

If you've got a project or an idea that impacts on mental wellbeing and you want to share it with us, please email, or call us on 0345 850 8508.