Mind Hong Kong’s annual month-long “Move It for Mental Health” campaign launches on March 1. With all the activities happening outdoors, “Movers” are in for a double whammy of health benefits. Now in its sixth year, the mental health charity’s signature campaign challenges participants to cover a distance of 30km in nature, whether walking, running, hiking, or even hopping if the fancy takes you. Derek Ng, a personal trainer at Joint Dynamics and a Mind HK ambassador, knows first-hand the value of exercise for mental health. Aged 13, he left Hong Kong, where he had been born and grown up, to go to boarding school in the United States, where he struggled with the culture shock that spiralled into anxiety and depression. “I went to three high schools, it was a rocky time. Sport was my only constant – it’s a simple black-and-white thing, it’s my safe, happy place,” said Ng. As a student, he played squash, which brought him in contact with a community of international students who also played, giving him immediate friends and a structure. At college, his squash friends bonded and became like family. “The basis of friendship is shared interest. If there are people in the same space doing the same thing, that’s half the job . It doesn’t even have to be a team sport – there are gyms where people consider themselves a family,” said Ng. Nature is a great healer – so go outdoors and get a breath of fresh air There are plenty of studies that show that exercise in nature not only keeps us physically fit, but also has a positive impact on our mental health . But more than 80 per cent of Hongkongers spend less than 2.5 hours engaged in physical activity a week. “Exercise helps a lot with improving sleep, which is critical for reducing stress, anxiety and depression . Sleep is one of the best things we can do to keep ourselves healthy and often one of the first things that goes,” said Ng. He is a fan of “ animal flow ”, a ground-based movement system designed to help people improve strength, flexibility, body control, and coordination. Mind HK campaign organisers hope the campaign will get people moving in March, and be the catalyst to regular activity. More than 3,700 people signed up last year, and 85.5 per cent of those who completed the post-challenge survey said the experience had motivated them to exercise more regularly. One of the joys of Hong Kong is the easy access to nature ; in less than an hour – and often a lot less – anyone can be in nature. Dr Candice Powell, Mind HK’s CEO , hikes the country trails with her husband and two dogs at weekends. She says immersing yourself in nature benefits your physical and psychological health in multiple ways, from improved cardiovascular structure and better immunity to enhanced positive emotion, reduced anxiety and depression and improved sleep. “In recent years, we’ve seen a lot more therapies incorporating nature : forest bathing reduces blood pressure and depression; there’s plenty of research that shows how sunlight reduces depression; and eco-therapy, a formal treatment which involves activity in nature to treat mild to moderate depression,” says Powell. Ng says people often seek out a personal trainer when there is something they are not happy about in their life. Although they might pinpoint weight as an issue, once they get into the routine of exercising their outlook often changes. “When someone is in a depressed state, they tend to look at things negatively and that often spreads to their appearance and they fixate on that. Once there’s a structure and they are enjoying the exercise they’ll say, ‘I feel good, my joints aren’t hurting, I have confidence in my body’ , there’s a sense of accomplishment,” says Ng. The Mind HK campaign is free to join, and registration is open now. More details and sign-up are available on its website . You will need to go here to learn which apps you can use to participate. Everyone who completes the challenge will get a certificate and a chance to win a prize from the sponsor, Lululemon. Flat hikes to do this summer in Hong Kong Mind HK is committed to increasing access to free and low-cost mental health support for anxiety and depression – last year it rolled out a programme to train new well-being practitioners to offer free, early mental health support for people facing mild to moderate mental health problems. “Movers”, who want to help make therapy more accessible to all, can seek sponsorship for the steps they take as part of the campaign. “Exercise is a circuit breaker. It’s a pause button for your life and for that hour you are in your own little bubble, focusing on your body, and when you come out of it you’ve forgotten about the day’s irritations,” says Ng. Powell will be hitting the trails with her dogs, two schnauzers. “March is a good season to hike, it’s not too hot and not too cold,” she says. Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .