Our body and our mind are connected. Action for Happiness claim that
‘Being active makes us happier, as well as being good for our physical health’.
We all know that regular exercise is good for the body. But exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health.
Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on your mental health and mental ill health; to help relieve stress, improve the memory, help you sleep better, and boost overall mood. You also don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.
Emotional and mental health benefits of exercise
Higher self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful. You’ll feel better about your appearance and, by meeting even small exercise goals, you’ll feel a sense of achievement.
Better sleep. Even short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns. If you prefer to exercise at night, relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.
More energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise a day, and increase your workout as you feel more energised.
Sharper memory. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.
Stronger resilience. When faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, exercise can help you cope in a healthy way. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress.
It may seem overwhelming to even take a step outside some days so don’t launch in to a vigorous regime every day, even a walk around the block is better than nothing at all. If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time.
The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more. As exercising becomes habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.
(See NHS link here for activity guidelines)
You don’t have to suffer to get results!
Research shows that moderate levels of exercise are best for most people. Moderate means:
- That you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not out of breath. For example, you should be able to chat with your walking partner, but not easily sing a song.
- That your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.
Overcoming mental health obstacles
So now you know that exercise will help you feel much better and that it doesn’t take as much effort as you might have thought. But taking that first step is still easier said than done. Exercise obstacles are very real—particularly when you’re also struggling with mental ill health. Here are some common barriers and what you can do to get past them.
Feeling exhausted. When you’re tired or stressed, it feels like working out will just make it worse. But the truth is that physical activity is a powerful energiser. Studies show that regular exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels. If you are really feeling tired, promise yourself a 5-minute walk. Chances are you’ll be able to go five more minutes.
Feeling overwhelmed. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, the thought of adding another obligation can seem overwhelming. Working out just doesn’t seem doable. If you have children, managing childcare while you exercise can be a big hurdle. Just remember that physical activity helps us do everything else better. If you begin thinking of physical activity as a priority, you will soon find ways to fit small amounts in a busy schedule.
Feeling hopeless. Even if you’ve never done anything before, you can still workout. Exercise helps you get in shape. If you have no experience exercising, start slow with low-impact movement a few minutes each day, try a fitness video in the comfort of your own home, you will soon start to become more confident with it and want to try out your moves with a friend, and maybe a class! If the feelings of hopelessness are about more than starting exercise, then please reach out to talk to someone like The Samaritans.
Feeling bad about yourself. Are you your own worst critic? It’s time to try a new way of thinking about your body. No matter what your weight, age or fitness level, there are others like you with the goals of getting fit. Try surrounding yourself with people in your shoes. Take a class with people at a variety of fitness levels. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you gain body confidence.
Daily steps…make it personal and fun for you!
- Challenge yourself to take the stairs not the lift, put some music on and keep your steps in time with the beat!
- Hoover, with lunges!
- Chase your kids around the house, tire you all out before bedtime!
- Borrow a friends dog and take it to the park!
- Do some stretches while watching tv!
- Join a fitness class with music you love!
- Rope your partner / neighbour / friend / workmate in to be accountable to each other (and have a good gossip at the same time)!