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  • Writer's pictureKaye Cheong

Mental Health & Mobility by Physio Bernadette Emuang

During a pandemic, both mental and physical health take a toll on us.

In Malaysia, mental illness is expected to be the second biggest health problem affecting Malaysians after heart disease. (University Malaya Specialist Centre, 2018).

Last year, it was reported that approximately half a million of Malaysians aged 16 years and above are suffering from depression, according to the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (CodeBlue, 2020).

The importance of mental health

As healthcare providers, mental health should not be neglected or forgotten.

It is important to consider all factors or areas in a person’s life when it comes to their health, in order to give them the best treatment and service possible.

Research highlights the importance of not just biological aspects of health (such as what's going on between anatomical structures) but also the psychological and social aspects, especially when it comes to chronic pain or illness.

This is formally known as the biopsychosocial model of health, pictured below with examples.

These various aspects are interlinked, and mental health is influenced by not just social and psychological health but also physical health.

The link between movement and mobility with mental health

By Merriam-Webster’s definition, mobility is the ability to move quickly or easily.

This is affected not only within the body (such as a body part's range of motion) but also outside of the body, taking into account space and access. Movement is a lot harder when you’ve got no place to move!

Mobility is important not just for physical health but is also vital for mental health.

Studies have shown that a lack of space for activity is associated with higher risk of depression. (Vallee et al., 2011) Another study showed that anxiety symptoms in women were positively associated with mobility limitations such as difficulty walking and climbing stairs (Rask et al., 2015). Similar results were reported in men.

Mobility in a pandemic

With cases at a high and standard operating procedures tightening, with gyms and exercise facilities closed for extended periods of time, mobility has been greatly reduced in Malaysia. Nobody is moving as much as they used to, and this may be a contributing factor to the escalation of mental health disorders in Malaysia, according to a new study (Wong et al., 2021)

While these facts are worrying, we should not be paralysed with fear but instead take small steps to improve our own mobility which can improve our mental health!

Steps forward for better mobility and mental health

  1. Go for a walk

Walking can have a positive effect on mental health, especially if you live in more rural areas with plenty of greenery (Roe and Aspinall, 2011). If you don’t have greenery around you, don't worry! Even walking in urban areas such as malls has shown to have mental health benefits for older persons. (Travis et al., 1996) Remember to practice safe distancing while doing so!’

  1. Take a drive around your neighbourhood

It could be therapeutic to take a short drive with peaceful music in the background to improve your mental health. Being able to move your body to a change of scenery may improve mood and promote relaxation, especially if you’ve been cooped up with your computer all day!

  1. Dance!

Dancing is a fun way to improve mobility in the body and enhance mental health. There is a higher chance of adherence to exercise with dance, which means a person is more likely to be consistent with this activity. Dance has also been shown to be effective in improving mental health and physical fitness in persons with chronic illnesses (Anne-Violette Bruyneel, 2019)

Mobility is vital to good mental health. We should strive to keep moving to the best of our abilities, so that not just our bodies but our minds can be at an optimal, functional state!

As the saying goes, movement is medicine.

If you are in constant pain or discomfort, it is advised to seek a health professional for advice before beginning any new exercise routine. Book a consultation with us today!


Biopsychosocial Model. Physiopedia. (n.d.).

Bruyneel, A.-V. (2019). Effects of dance activities on patients with chronic pathologies: scoping review. Heliyon, 5(7).

How The Health Ministry Is Fighting Depression. CodeBlue. (2020, December 29).

Rask, S., Castaneda, A. E., Koponen, P., Sainio, P., Stenholm, S., Suvisaari, J., Juntunen, T., Halla, T., Härkänen, T., & Koskinen, S. (2015). The association between mental health symptoms and mobility limitation among Russian, Somali and Kurdish migrants: a population based study. BMC Public Health, 15(1).

Roe, J., & Aspinall, P. (2011). The restorative benefits of walking in urban and rural settings in adults with good and poor mental health. Health & Place, 17(1), 103–113.

Sugiyama, T., Leslie, E., Giles-Corti, B., & Owen, N. (2008). Associations of neighbourhood greenness with physical and mental health: do walking, social coherence and local social interaction explain the relationships? Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 62(5).

Vallée, J., Cadot, E., Roustit, C., Parizot, I., & Chauvin, P. (2011). The role of daily mobility in mental health inequalities: The interactive influence of activity space and neighbourhood of residence on depression. Social Science & Medicine, 73(8), 1133–1144.

Wong, L. P., Alias, H., Md Fuzi, A. A., Omar, I. S., Mohamad Nor, A., Tan, M. P., Baranovich, D. L., Saari, C. Z., Hamzah, S. H., Cheong, K. W., Poon, C. H., Ramoo, V., Che, C. C., Myint, K., Zainuddin, S., & Chung, I. (2021). Escalating progression of mental health disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from a nationwide survey. PLOS ONE, 16(3).

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