After the year we have all had, there are very few people who haven’t suffered on
some level with their mental health, either because of lack of contact with friends and
family, boredom, worrying about losing jobs, loneliness, and frustration at not being
able to do what they want to do and go where they want to go. Even getting back to
normal can cause anxiety, whether that’s getting over the nervousness of starting to
go out again, the expectation that you should be doing things or just the change from
doing nothing to having a full diary again. This has all had an immediate impact on
all of us with many people suffering to a much greater degree, and it is something
that should be talked about naturally because it is important. Just because it isn’t
seen doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Mental wellbeing is so important. If we can’t think straight, how can we function
properly, but what is mental wellness? It’s the feeling of being able to function well in
any situation, deal well with challenging situations, feel good about ourselves, feel
valued, connected with the people around us and feel in control.
Did you know that one of the best things for your mental health is exercise? It increases new blood
vessel growth in the brain and creates new patterns in the brain which lead to a
feeling of wellbeing. This doesn’t mean that you have to be happy all the time but
being able to cope and deal with situations leads to being calmer and generally
The dictionary definition of exercise is ‘activity requiring physical effort, carried out to
sustain or improve health and fitness’. This can be anything where you are working
your muscles and using energy. Exercise can be broken down into normal daily
movement such as walking to the bus stop, climbing the stairs, cleaning and carrying
the shopping, play or recreational activities that are done for fun and structured
planned exercise such as going to the gym, running, cycling or strength training.
Exercise is traditionally seen as something not enjoyable that you must do in order to
stay fit and healthy. We need to change this outdated concept and start to view
exercise as something that we do because of its huge positive impact on our mental
wellbeing as well as our health and fitness. Most people who exercise do so because
it gives them an immense feeling of wellbeing. They want to have more energy,
sleep better and feel more relaxed and positive. Exercise doesn’t always come
naturally and it takes effort, but it can be a huge source of pleasure, both whilst
you’re working out and because of the benefits that you see and feel afterwards.
These benefits include boosting the immune system, increased energy, better sleep,
improved concentration, happier mood, better self-worth and more resilience to be
able to cope with things rather than turning to negative behaviours such as alcohol
which could make your symptoms worse. It reduces stress, anxiety and symptoms of
depression and builds strength, muscle as well as improving flexibility and mobility. It
reduces the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
It helps to reduce stress and anxiety in people suffering with mental health as well as
helping to prevent these problems before they arise. Symptoms of stress include
tense muscles, problems sleeping, lack of concentration, perspiration, headaches
and tension in the muscles. These symptoms cause adrenaline to be released
causing the fight or flight response or getting the body ready for an emergency
reaction. Cortisol, the main stress hormone is released from the adrenal glands, and
there’s an increase of sugar in the bloodstream. People who exercise regularly are
known to have lower stress levels than those who don’t exercise at all. Exercise is
also used as a natural treatment for, and has been shown to reduce the symptoms
of, depression. This is a great low cost, natural prescription, without side-effects,
which will help you to feel in control and empowered.
Regular exercise is extremely beneficial in boosting our self-esteem, mood and
confidence due to the release of endorphins in the brain, also known as the happy
hormone, but as well as making you feel happy, better and content, it also makes
your memory sharper and improves your concentration. You will find that you have
more energy (increasing the heart rate regularly will give you more motivation and
drive) and sleep better (exercise is good for regulating sleep patterns), which will
enable you to cope with stressful situations more easily. Exercise helps to get rid of
feelings of tiredness, fatigue and exhaustion, hopelessness, melancholy and gloom
and yoga or a gentle stretch class in the evening helps to promote better sleep.
Research also shows that exercise can lower the risk of developing dementia as well
as delaying further decline in people who are already affected.
How much exercise should you do? Many people do not do enough exercise. The
NHS recommend doing 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous
exercise a week, but only 54% of women are exercising for the recommended
amount of time. Moderate exercise is getting a little out of breath, but you can still
hold a conversation. You don’t need to sweat for hours in the gym. 30 minutes a day
for five days is all that’s needed, and this can be done in even smaller time
segments. Just 10 minutes of exercise can reduce stress and anxiety, increase
energy levels, promote better sleep and be a great mood booster. Start slowly by
walking or simply moving more throughout the day. Try to park further away from
where you’re going, getting off the bus stop a stop or two earlier, taking the stairs
when you can and alongside these, adding in a jog, squats, lunges or dancing along
to a song whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or the washing to finish.
It can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise when you are struggling with your
mental health. You know that it will make you feel better, but you have no desire to
start, or you may feel anxious about exercising with other people. Work out at what
time of day you have the most energy and plan a 10 minute walk for then or a short
workout or maybe a class such as Zumba at the gym. It doesn’t matter what the
exercise is as long as it’s something that you enjoy, whether that’s a gym workout, a
walk, or playing in the park with the children. Activities like gardening or decorating
also give you a sense of satisfaction when you’ve finished. It all counts. The upbeat
music is a great mood booster alongside the exercise. Make a note in your diary of
the time you want to exercise so that you keep that time available. Psychologically
this is a great motivator. As you build strength and feel more energetic, increase the
time that you exercise for. A great motivation is to treat yourself afterwards so that
you have something nice to look forward to such as a hot bubble bath, a beauty
treatment, magazine/book or settling down to watch a film.
Try to be mindful of the exercise that you are doing. Be aware of your breathing,
enjoy the fresh air and feel the ground beneath you if you are running or walking. Try
exercising with a friend if you are wanting some support. Not only will you have great
company but also the accountability which means you are more likely to do it. It’s
important to maintain your exercise once you start and this will become easier the
more that you do and the more that you enjoy it.
As you get fitter and stronger, you will start to notice your body changing and your
mind will start to feel calmer, relaxed and settled too.
Caroline & Hannah xx