2020 has taught us that exercising, and having access to the great outdoors, can fundamentally support our mental health and wellbeing. As Team Happiful pledges to take part in RED January, we explore the evidence behind the feel-good factor we get from movement

While it’s often difficult to imagine a list of positives from the events of 2020, if you were to write one, would your relationship with exercise be on there? Have you been inspired to workout at home with Joe Wicks, to get out in nature more, or try Couch to 5k for the first time?

If the answer is yes, you’re far from alone, as the need to move for wellbeing has become central for many, and one of the reasons we’re taking part in RED January and moving every day. In March, the news that we would need to stay in our homes and leave only once a day for exercise, brought about a collective realisation: our ability to get outdoors and the freedom to exercise is more precious than many of us could have imagined in our former fast-paced, corona-free lives.


And so, we set about moving. Not just for our bodies, but for our minds, too. Research by Sport England revealed that at the start of lockdown, many of us wanted to break into a sweat to support our mental wellbeing. A huge 63% of people surveyed after the first six weeks, shared that exercise was important for their mental health, with 45% of respondents opting for home-based workouts, while 63% were walking for daily exercise.

"Our ability to get outdoors and have the freedom to exercise is more precious than many of us could have previously imagined"

Physical movement is good for us, and when it’s restricted or taken away, we can suffer. The converse is that when we add or increase exercise, whether it’s walking, cycling, gardening or Zoom Zumba, we can improve our mental wellbeing. The possible impact is so profound that the NHS rolled out “exercise on prescription”, where GPs can signpost the best movement for individuals. Additionally, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that people with mild to moderate depression take part in three sessions of exercise a week, lasting up to an hour, for 10 to 14 weeks.

It’s perhaps obvious why healthcare professionals would prescribe movement for mood management. Exercising produces natural endorphins – a chemical responsible for making us feel good, triggering feelings of positivity. And if you’re exercising with a friend, say jogging in the park together, the benefits increase as socialising with other people is one of the ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’, according to the mental health charity Mind. Connecting, staying active, being mindful of your surroundings, learning and giving to others, are all evidenced ways to improve your wellness. So, if you’re learning to run or ride a bike, with a friend or family member, outdoors in a beautiful park, while raising money for a charitable cause? That’s your wellbeing five a day right there!

"Signing up for RED January was one of the best choices I have made, certainly for my health, both physically and mentally"

Getting started

One thing we know at Happiful, is that it’s not always easy to start to move more, especially if you’re struggling with your mental health. That’s one of the reasons we love RED January, and why we’re taking part this year. The challenge, to move every day, is supported by an extensive online community, and champions the idea of simply putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, for mental health benefits.

Now in its fifth year, there is real evidence that RED January is a truly beneficial initiative. Oxford University research, conducted in 2019, revealed that 50% of RED participants experienced less stress and reduced signs of depressive symptoms as a result of taking part. And in terms of encouraging people to get up and moving, 32% went from being inactive to fairly active, while a phenomenal 54% of those taking part moved from being fairly active to active.


So, whether you choose to join us on 1 January at the virtual RED starting line, or make a commitment to walking outside on your lunch break every day instead, know that when you move, you are doing something wonderful for yourself – for your mind, body, and soul.

Austin's story

In December 2017, I realised that my weight had ballooned, and I was becoming increasingly concerned about my long-term physical and mental health. As a dad, I had always envisioned being active with my kids, but I’d slipped into a sedentary lifestyle filled with unhealthy choices.

A friend told me they were taking part in RED January, and I knew straight away it would be the perfect challenge to get me started. I began with the obligatory hangover and forced myself around four very difficult miles. I felt a million dollars afterwards, and I loved having the challenge to keep me going when things got tough. By the end of the month, I felt so good.

After my first RED, I just kept running. Somewhere along the way I stopped running for weight loss and I started to develop a real love for it. In 2019 I took the plunge and entered my first marathon. I ended up completing four marathons, including three of the world majors!

I say with absolute honesty that signing up for RED January was one of the best choices I have made, certainly for my health, both physically and mentally.

Sign up today and let’s get ready to start 2021 as we mean to go on. Head to redtogether.co.uk/happiful