Heads Up Information and Tips: Let’s talk about exercise, lifestyle, and mental health


Our physical and mental health are closely linked, and it is important that we take care of ourselves. We can start small – by changing our lifestyle, through exercise, sleep and diet, to improve our physical and mental health.

This booklet contains useful information and tips to incorporate exercise and healthy lifestyle into daily life, along with a list of local mental health resources and services available, so you can take care of yourself, peers and others. 

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is used to describe how we feel and how we cope in our lives. Just like everything in life, our mental health is on a spectrum, and it fluctuates from time to time. With the appropriate resources and support, we can always return to a state of positive mental health.

Good mental health (Thriving):

  • Relatively self-confident 
  • Feels and expresses a range of emotions 
  • Engaged with the world around them
  • Lives and work productively
  • Copes with the stressors of daily life, change and uncertainty

At risk:

  • Showing signs of mental health problems
  • Signs and symptoms are affecting our daily lives (e.g. can’t sleep, headache, don’t want to go to school, don’t want to meet friends, etc.)

Poor mental health (Surviving):

  • Signs and symptoms have persisted for a period of time
  • Symptoms have been significantly affecting our lives, school, work and relationships

Physical Activity

Staying physically active benefits both our physical and mental health. Staying active doesn’t mean moving vigorously every day – even slow walks and stretching counts. Yet 81% of adolescents (aged 11-17) in the world do not achieve the WHO’s recommended levels of physical activities.

World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children and adolescents aged 5-17 years should: 

  1. At least an average of 60 minutes/day of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity, mostly aerobic, across the week.
  2. Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, and those that strengthen muscle and bone, should be incorporated at least 3 days/week.

While it is important to stay active, don’t forget to rest!

It is important to rest so your body can recover and restore energy – listen to your body!

Physical benefits

  • Reduces risk of some diseases
  • Regulates levels of cortisol
  • Maintain healthy organs
  • Maintain healthy bones
  • Increase levels of energy
  • Improves sleep

Mental Health Benefits

    • Self-efficacy is the belief in oneself to perform a certain behaviour or achieve a goal. Exercise builds up your sense of mastery and control, by conquering challenges along the way, which in turn increases self-efficacy.  
    • Exercise helps to improve your body figure, your mobility and strength. It is also a great reminder to yourself that you are taking care of your health and wellbeing, which also boosts your self-esteem.
    • Exercise improves cognitive performance. It promotes neural growth and facilitates connections and communication between indifferent parts of your brain. In short, it helps you to focus better during lessons, learn and remember better. It also improves your decision-making, reasoning and problem solving skills.
    • Exercise helps reduce our stress hormone (Cortisol and adrenaline, which contributes to our feelings of stress). It also promotes changes in how our brain responds to stress, and allows us to recover from signs of stress better.
    • Exercise increases our levels of endorphins, which makes us feel happy and pleasant. It also increases our levels of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates our mood, wellbeing, and also affects our sleep and appetite.
    • People who are physically are more likely to face lower levels of depression and anxiety symptoms. Being physically active also lowers the risk of developing depression.
    • Exercise bonds people together, especially when you are playing team sports. It gives us a sense of belonging, which reduces our feeling of loneliness and enhances self-esteem. Connecting with others also expands our support network, which is a crucial source of emotional support, especially when we are struggling and feeling distressed.

Risk of inactive lifestyle:

  • Lower metabolism rates
  • Muscles, bones, heart and lung capacity and immune system are weakened
  • Reduced sleep duration and poorer sleep quality
  • Increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes in later years
  • Social isolation and reduced physical interactions with others
  • Increased risk of developing depression symptoms and psychological distress


Some foods contain nutrients that help our body to function better. While it is okay to enjoy food that makes us feel good and happy, the key is to make sure you have a healthy diet that provides you with enough energy and nutrients to keep your body and brain running, and maintain your mental health.

  • Carbohydrates
    • It is our main energy source that keeps our brain and body running. You can find carbohydrates from foods like rice, wheat products, breads and root vegetables (such pumpkin, taro, etc.).
  • Protein
    • It contains essential building blocks, amino acids, for our brain and body to function normally – from producing chemicals that are necessary for the body to communicate, and to building muscles and strength for our body. You can find proteins in foods like meat, beans, tofu, mushrooms and eggs.
  • Fats
    • Healthy fats, such as unsaturated fat and omega-3,6,9, are essential for your brain health, as it is a vital part in protecting your nerve cells, which helps you stay focused and keep a clear head. But a little goes a long way, so moderation is key. You can find healthy fats from foods like fish, nuts, egg yolks and olive oil.
  • Vitamins and minerals
    • Vitamins and minerals play an important role in supporting our body to carry out daily functions. For example, Vitamin B is crucial in producing chemicals messenger for the body, protects our brain health, and regulates our mood, sleep and energy levels. Other vitamins are also useful for our body to stay healthy. Vitamins and minerals can be found in many foods; in particular, you can get your dose of Vitamin B from foods like pistachios, garlic, meat and spinach.

A balanced diet should include a range of vegetables, fruits, protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals. Here are some tips for a healthy diet.

  • Get your colours in! Colours in fruits and vegetables represent different vitamins and nutrients, which can ensure you get enough nutrients you need.
  • Limit the amount of refined sugar in your diet. As much as we enjoy a good piece of cake or a bottle of boba milk tea from time to time, too much sugar can actually make us feel irritated, affect our cognitive performance, and cause health issues like skin problems, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Drink enough water. 70% of our body is water. Drinking an average of 8 cups of water keeps our brain clear, awake and energetic, so we can focus better in school.


Having a regular and sufficient sleep schedule allows our body to restore and reserve energy, consolidate memories and maintain brain activity. 

Teenagers are recommended to get around 8-10 hours of sleep, yet most teens are only getting 6-7 hours. 

  • 86.4% of secondary students in Hong Kong had sufficient sleep (8+ hours) on weekends and holidays
  • Only 27.4% were able to meet recommended hours on school nights

Tips to getting enough sleep:

  • Avoid digital screens before sleep. Blue light from our devices interferes with our sleep hormone, which keeps us awake at night.
  • Make your sleep environment comfortable. You can benefit from a better sleep with a dim, quiet and a comfortable temperature.
  • Be active! Exercise allows us to spend some of our energy, allowing us to have a good night’s sleep. Staying inactive can make it harder to fall asleep. However, make sure not to exercise too close to your bed time! 

Goals Setting

Setting goals allows us to:

  • Work towards our personal growth.
  • Reinforce us to continue performing the goal-oriented behaviour
  • Improve our self-efficacy

SMART goal

  • Specific – Have a focused goals with tangible outcomes. Being more specific helps you identify what you want to achieve.
  • Measurable – A clear definition of what you want to achieve. This allows you to evaluate outcomes and progress.
  • Achievable – Your goal can be challenging but also reasonable. Reflecting this component can help identify barriers.
  • Relevant – Achieve something that is worthwhile to you. It should be aligned with your values and determine whether it is a priority to you.
  • Timely – Each goal should have a target date, something to motivate you in being focused and disciplined about it. Set a time frame so that you don’t get discouraged.

Tips to setting goals:

  • Be as detailed as possible. It is easier for you to follow your plans.
  • Get prepared! Think of some potential challenges that you might face, and how you can overcome them. This helps you to be prepared to get through potential obstacles along the way.
  • Tell your friends and family about your goal! Get your friends and family involved to help you stay on track with your goals.

Supporting Yourself

Seeking help can be confusing and overwhelming, so it is important to know what is available and what to expect. Here is some useful information for you to learn more about seeking help in Hong Kong.


  • Check-in with yourself
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Reach out if you need to
  • Set realistic goals
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Stay active
  • Get enough rest
  • Drink more water

How to support your peers?

Key things to remember:

  • Be empathetic and compassionate. Take on their perspective and recognise that their perspective is their truth.
    • Acknowledge their pain (e.g. “it must be hard for you”)
    • Share how you feel (e.g. “I can’t imagine what you are going through”)
    • Show gratitude (e.g. “thank you for trusting me to share your story with me”)
    • Show interest (e.g. “how do you feel about everything?”)
    • Be supportive (e.g. “what can I do for you right now as your friend?”)
  • Be non-judgemental. They are their own person, and they are in control of their thoughts and actions.
  • Be supportive. Being supportive doesn’t mean you need to fix their problem, it is about being there to support them, so they are not alone in facing the situation.


  • Check in with them
  • Listen and take things at their pace
  • Engage in active listening and ask specific questions
  • Validate their experience and provide them with options
  • Respect their point of view


  • Don’t force them to share things they are uncomfortable to talk about
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Don’t criticise or shame their beliefs and actions
  • Don’t compare their problem to your own or invalidate their experience
  • Don’t try to fix their problem for them

Move It for Mental Health

About Move It

“Move It for Mental Health” is Mind HK’s annual campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of exercise on our physical and mental health, through challenging the public to complete different exercise goals. 

Learn more about the challenge:

List of available resources and services

  • Coolminds – youth mental health resources
  • KELY’s Project Connect – youth referral service
    (Mobile hotline / WhatsApp / Signal – 5647 6688)
  • The Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong
    (Hotline: English – 2389 2223 / Chinese – 2389 2222)
    (Online chat service: English & Chinese – ChatPoint)
  • The Samaritans
    (Multilingual 24 hour hotline – 2896 0000)
  • Suicide Prevention Services
    (Youth Link Hotline: English & Chinese – 2382 0777)
  • Youth Outreach Hotline
    (Chinese only – 9088 1023, WhatsApp 10pm-6am)
  • Caritas Infinity Teens
    (Phone: Chinese only – 2339 3759)
    (WhatsApp / Signal – 9377 3666)
  • The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups
    (Youthline hotline: Chinese only – 2777 8899)
    (uTouch online outreach counselling service: Chinese only – WhatsApp 6277 8899)
  • The Boys & Girls Clubs Association of Hong Kong
    (Nite Cat online chat room: Chinese only – WhatsApp 9726 8159 / 9852 8625)
  • OpenUp
    (Online counselling service: SMS 9101 2012 or web chat)

*This resources is supported by Laureus Sports For Good.