Exercise and Mental Health
Mental Health Awareness Week 2023
You've heard it all before. Go for a long walk and your problems will all disappear!
We get it, it seems trivial. But we promise you that physical activity has the power to enhance mental wellbeing. This doesn’t just mean go and run a 10k. Something as simple as utilising breathwork during a yin yoga class allows better rationalisation of thoughts and a feeling of oneness – exercise doesn’t have to equal hard work!
The key is to find whatever works for you and do it as often as you find comfortable.
Some of the most obvious benefits of exercise on mental health are:
- Better sleep quality. Sleep allows our bodies functions such as cell repair, memory consolidation and rest, be carried out properly. Poor sleep is linked to a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Exercising realigns normal functions and allows us to feel tired and fall asleep more easily in the evening.
- Positive moods. Exercise releases endorphins otherwise coined ‘feel-good’ hormones. These do what they say on the tin, make you feel good! Exercise uplifts you and gives you more energy – a complete counteract to the negative moods bought on by mental health issues.
- Stress and anxiety management. The release of cortisol when the body performs exercise makes our bodies used to dealing with small bursts of physical stress, allowing us to feel a sense of control and ability to deal with stressful situations better when they arise.
- Improved self-esteem. Exercise can simply make us feel better about ourselves as we reach our goals and gain a sense of achievement in doing so.
- A sense of belonging. The feeling of community and togetherness that sports and group classes bring can encourage individuals to make like-minded friends with similar interests.
This list is not comprehensive. The impacts of exercise are endless and many things that might seem unrelated to mental health still have a domino effect. In short, there is often a strong correlation between having a healthy, active lifestyle and reducing the severity of mental health issues.
But keep in mind that everyone is different. No amount of exercise is perfect for everyone and sometimes exercise doesn’t help at all. If you’re a newbie to working out, start steady and find something you really enjoy. After all, “exercise should be something you enjoy; otherwise, it will be hard to find the motivation to do it regularly.”
Anxious to work out in front of others? Find a quiet time to access your nearest gym and ask one of our instructors for a run through on the machines – it’s their job! Start jogging outside around your house before you bring it to the gym to make sure it’s your thing. Try a sport like swimming that you can perform on your own with less distractions. Whatever your preference, there are always options! And if you’re already well acquainted with your chosen form of exercise, perhaps mix it up.
Have you tried swimming or squash? Hot yoga… a Les Mills class?!
Like people, exercise comes in many different shapes and sizes. You are just one step away from discovering your favourite style. So, what are you waiting for?!
If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health, listen without judgement, find out what might help them and reassure them that there are resources available.
Sources: Exercise for depression - NHS (www.nhs.uk) | Benefits of exercise - NHS (www.nhs.uk) | How to look after your mental health using exercise | Mental Health Foundation