Exercise to improve mental health

What is ‘mental health?’

Put simply, our mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. Our mental fitness fluctuates as it gets tested, and for the vast majority of us, it is being pushed to its limit now at this uncertain time. When it comes under strain it can show itself as anxiety which is a feeling of unease, nervousness or worry about what is to come. Anxiety can be born out of fear, frustration, anger or grief.

All these feelings make up our level of ‘mental health’.

Now more than ever, many of us will feel unsettled about our day to day lives. Work or relationships may be getting on top of us, or we may be overwhelmed by a sense of confinement or the need to juggle more than one role at once.

When our mentality begins to directly affect and control us, it can become a mental health issue but what we can control is our response, and one of the simplest ways to improve your mental health is exercise.

Physical health directly impacts mental wellness. The fitter and stronger your body, the more resilient you become, helping you to handle those feelings of low mood. Exercise also promotes better sleep, improves muscle tone and increases heart and lung capacity. It provides a feel-good factor on completion and can support weight loss.

 

Increasing your exercise

At present, we must adhere to Government guidelines in terms of exercise which means only exercising either alone or with members of your household. Until the current situation allows for the opportunity to join an organised group, you could start your exercise path at home via online activity.

We have some great articles on Staying fit and active inside and Nutrition on our blog.

You could also use this time to research any clubs or groups you may wish to join once restrictions are lifted. Generally, all groups, gyms and clubs have their own social media sites with hints and tips on staying well, good nutrition and hydration advice, exercise programmes and general motivation. There are also Facebook groups that promote mental health improvement via exercise and support, one good example to take a look at is #Flourish.

When the current situation allows, getting out with friends, joining an exercise class, or taking part in group meets such as ‘mentalhealthmile’ are all great ways of supporting your mental wellbeing. Joining a regular class can help you to socialise with new people, help to maintain your fitness and can provide a routine to help you to stay motivated when you may not feel like exercising alone.

Being mobile, able to challenge our strength and speed plus being outdoors in the fresh air (or just a different environment) immediately offers an opportunity for improved physicality. Life seems so much better from a mountain top, or amongst like-minded people. There is a freeing or opening of the mind and situations don’t seem as dire when viewed on the horizon or shared with others.

 

Just starting out? 

There are many opportunities within local running, cycling and swimming clubs for beginners or those just wanting social interaction and a motivator to get out of the house. There are many Couch to 5K apps and groups setting up in the UK so there’s a level for everyone.

The most basic exercise available to all is to walk. Set yourself a goal depending on your ability, for example 10,000 steps a day and keep count on your phone or activity tracker. You can make small changes to your daily routine to help you achieve your goal, for example, meet your friends for a takeout coffee rather than sitting in a café or park the car further away from work and walk the rest of the way. The extra 10 minutes of exercise a day soon adds up to help with your physical fitness and your mental fitness level will improve too!

 

 

Thank you to guest contributor: Louise Goddard, Founder LegItLancaster and Mental Health Mile

Louise’s name is well-established in the North West running community.

Louise regularly volunteers and runs at physical wellbeing running, walking and wheeling events in and around Lancaster, most notably the ‘Mental Health Mile’ series. She was awarded ‘Volunteer of the year’ at the 2019 National Volunteer Awards.

Louise organises monthly timed mile runs to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and promote the benefits of physical activity and coming together as a community to improve our health and wellbeing. 

#mentalhealthmile events has been organising a one-mile event in Lancaster and other local parks each month for over 3 years; the aim is to encourage people of all abilities to get together and run, wheel, walk and talk. The ‘mile’ is particularly aimed at those who don’t do much exercise or wish to start a healthier work/life balance and those who may need support and encouragement.

Mental fitness is the objective and by using exercise, group work and the safe environment of a traffic-free park we are enabling the more vulnerable in the community to come along and try something new. This is a not-for-profit organisation, donations are taken on the day and immediately put back into the next event, providing incentives and rewards to all participants.