Mental health week: moving feet, settling minds

Combining Physical and Mental Health in Ports

A blog by Tim Morris, Chief Executive of UKMPG

Tim MorrisI’m not shaped for running. But, somewhat to my surprise and the amusement of my kids, I’ve become ‘a runner’. A lockdown way of trying to mitigate weight gain has, more unexpectedly, also come to be a really useful and important way for me to process day-to-day pressures. And it looks like I’m not alone. Outdoor running has increased in popularity during the pandemic, which saw a 34% increase in 2020.

Other contributions to this year’s Port Skills and Safety Mental Health Week show that I shouldn’t be surprised. Mental and physical health are not separate, they are interlinked and mutually beneficial. The science is clear. Better physical health contributes to better mental wellbeing and vice versa.

This is something increasingly recognised – and better still acted upon – by the UK’s port operators. For example,

PD Ports have expanded the remit of their ‘Safety Champions’; employees have undertaken training to become wellbeing champions, leading on health and wellbeing campaigns and supported by a mental health program which now has over 55 mental health first aiders.

PD have regular activities taking place throughout the year, led by the champions groups to promote physical and mental wellbeing. This includes walking challenges, where teams log their weekly steps and upload them to a central location in the hope of being crowned the winning team. It’s great for teamwork, gets people motivated with an element of fun whilst delivering positive physical and mental health outcomes.

Its not a ‘top down’ thing, there’s recognition and demand from colleagues. At the Bristol Port Company, requests for an onsite gym were numerous when the Port launched its Wellbeing Strategy to support staff in improving their mental and physical health during the pressures of COVID. An empty building space was restored by a small, dedicated team and then outfitted with a range of weights and equipment. The gym is also a base for exercise classes and is open, free of charge, to all staff.

Healthy communities are important for successful ports. Associated British Ports supports a programme of mass participation running events at locations around its ports in the Humber, Solent, and South Wales. Open to participants of all standards (and I can personally confirm that), the ABP programme, along with employee running groups which help with the training, is a great example of seeing the wellbeing focus as something that doesn’t end at the port gates and with our own colleagues.

ABP is sponsoring nine running events in 2022, close to five of its port locations: Cleethorpes (near to ABP’s port of Grimsby), Southampton, and Barry Island, Newport, and Cardiff in South Wales. These charity runs include two marathons, three half marathons, three 10K runs and one 5K run. If you get your trainers on there’s still time to sign up for some of these events.

Physical activity is no guarantee of mental wellbeing, nor is it necessarily a cure all. But it can be a positive and important part of the overall wellbeing picture, helping people be more productive in work and happier out of it. Port operators are grasping this and taking practical steps towards positive change. Hopefully, a bit quicker than my running!