Embracing Exercise For Our Mental Health

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, exercise was very much a thing that you did exclusively for physical benefits and predominantly, weight loss. Everything was connected to a diet, that if you exercised and lived on cabbage soup, you’d look better and be slimmer and so much other nonsense. There was absolutely zero discussion around the benefits to mental health but thankfully open conversations about mental health struggles have become far less of a taboo subject over the last few years. In conjunction with this, a reworking of what exercise means, and how it can benefit us not just from a physical point of view but can empower the mind too.

When our mental health takes a dip, it’s important to remember that any exercise at all is better than none. It no longer means running a marathon or going for a 25 mile bike ride. Walking around the block or to the local park, walking to the shop instead of driving, are all ways we can embrace exercise on a small scale even when it can feel at its most daunting.

Some people may opt to find support from personal trainers or group classes, although reaching and finding personal trainers in London and other major cities that understand what you need can seem impossible. But with the right team behind you and a strong support network, you can look out for yourself while getting a little exercise at the same time.

How much exercise are people supposed to do?

It’s recommended that the average person does around 150 minutes of relatively intense activity per week to remain healthy in the body and mind. This sounds daunting and definitely easier said than done. It’s absolutely ok to take it easy – I know every time I fall of the exercise wagon, I won’t be able to go out and run 10k just like that and will instead need to take my time and build up to it again. What matters most is doing something and starting small, perhaps with a goal in mind.

This can be anything from a little 15-minute walk around the block to getting off one stop earlier on the commute home. In my 20s when I both wanted to and needed to lose a lot of weight as I didn’t feel happy in my own skin, starting to walk part of the way to work was exactly what I began with and over time it made a huge difference, both in my physical and mental health. Small steps will eventually lead to big changes in your health and lifestyle.

Physical activities and the benefits for mental health

Exercise plays a pivotal role in our mental health because of how interlinked our bodies and brains really are. Mental health challenges are hard to live with and even more so to overcome. However, never underestimate the power of a small increase each day – for example, an extra 5 minutes on a walk. You’ll feel such a sense of achievement which can improve our moods, boost our self-esteem and help to reduce anxiety and worry as a consequence.

Exercise and mood

There is no denying it, exercise has been proven to give our moods a lift and have a calming but reinvigorating effect on our overall mental health, especially when done regularly. As many times as I don’t feel like any form of exercise, I have only ever felt better for putting myself out there and trying something no matter how much or how little. If you find yourself lethargic and unmotivated after a difficult day, doing just 30 minutes of soft cardio per day can help your mind to stay focused and positive.

Exercise and depression

When I was a Samaritans volunteer, one of the most frequent types of calls were from people who lived with depression. To many, it feels impossible to get out of bed or get dressed, let alone try and undertake any exercise. Of course, it’s always best to discuss the best solution for your own individual needs with a healthcare professional, but hopefully as we discuss mental health more and more and the different levels of severity that come hand in hand with that, exercise will no longer be overlooked as a potential solution for some people.  

I’m definitely forever grateful that I’m someone who has discovered the benefits of exercise in lots of different ways – walking my dog, going for a run, Pilates classes – its certainly changed my life for the better.

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