As it is Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d look a little closer at a particular topic that people may find useful.
We all know the physical benefits of exercise – weight loss, decreased blood pressure, reduction in cholesterol etc. – but the advantages for your mental health are also clear.
It has been well documented that exercise and activity can improve your mood and, especially during the current situation, I think this is an important thing to keep in mind.
Exercise releases endorphins, which not only improve your mood and makes you more relaxed, but it can also give you sharper focus. Have you ever done a workout first thing, and then reaped the benefits for the rest of the day? It can help reduce stress, improve our self-esteem and help us sleep better as well. If you think about periods in your life where you had more stress, how did you cope?
Although, predominantly, I talk about exercise and mental health with the respect of organised exercise (running, Gym, game of football etc.), but being generally active can be beneficial too, and the length of time isn’t important – as little as 10 minutes of activity or exercise is better than nothing. And it provides a base for us to work on. As exercising becomes a habit, you can increase the time you spend on it.
I have clients who use exercise to help with their mental health, and I find it helps me too.
In November 2019 I had an operation. It was an operation I’d had before and recovered well from, so I expected nothing different this time. I knew I would be unable to exercise for while, and I could cope with that – the important thing was to get back to work ASAP, and exercise could come later.
Unfortunately, I’m still not fully recovered, and still unable to exercise. As a person used to exercising 4-5 times a week it’s annoying, as a PT advertising the benefits of exercise and motivating others, this is something I find hard to take.
I’ve noticed a change in my mental health over this period – nothing serious, and I’ve not needed to seek help, but something I’ve noticed all the same.
My sleep pattern is disrupted, my energy levels are way down, my ability to cope in certain situation has reduced and I’ve noticed that my general anxiety levels are higher than usual.
I was hoping to use the lockdown as a period of time to get my fitness back (whilst still sticking to the government guidelines!), and I’ve not been able to do that. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m still not quite there.
I’ve loved what I’ve been able to do – the weather has definitely helped there – but it’s frustrating when I think I could do so much more!
Exercise for me is a release. It’s a way for me to escape sometimes, and a way for me to do something that I enjoy. I like seeing what my body is capable of, and seeing what different things I can try. I already have a few things that I want to try and achieve once I’m able to exercise again, and I know that it’ll take a time to get my strength and fitness back. But I’m looking forward to the challenge.
So I will always shout about the mental health advantages of exercise, as much as I will explain the physical benefits too. Exercise alone won’t cure any mental illness, we know that, but keeping active and exercising can be an important tool in any treatment plan.