We know that exercise can be used to alleviate mental health problems. Mental health charity Mind uses “the power of sport and physical activity to raise awareness, tackle mental health stigmas and support those of us with mental health problems to become more active”. The charity also partners with RED (Run Every Day) to promote the RED January initiative. Thousands of people sign up every year to support their mental health by doing something active every day in January each year.
Exercise doesn’t just help us recover from mental health problems. It also helps us to prevent them. It’s important to nurture our mental health, in just the same way as we might aim to maintain our physical health. As mental health and eating disorders campaigner James Downs recently tweeted, understanding what constitutes good mental health is as important as an awareness of the conditions associated mental ill-health. Physical activity can help us stay both physically and mentally healthy.
How it works
When we exercise, our stress hormone levels are lowered and we produce endorphins. Endorphins lift our mood, making us feel relaxed and optimistic. These direct effects on our chemistry are part of the reason why physical activity benefits our mental health, but they are not the whole story.
Improving your self-image
Exercise can change the way your body looks and feels. Your shape can change, and your strength and stamina will generally increase. As a result of these changes, you are likely to have a more positive self-image. You might feel happier about the way you look, and you are also likely to enjoy feelings of achievement and of being capable of more than you realised. Exercise improves your physical fitness, so that your energy levels increase. This means that you are able to go out and do even more.
Freeing your mind
Ever been stuck staring at a computer screen or page, unable to work out how to tackle a difficult problem, only to give up and go for a walk or do something else instead? Often, when we do this, we find that the answer pops into our heads while we are away from our workspaces. There’s a reason for this. When we exercise, we distract our minds from our daily cares and, while our bodies are busy, we often find ourselves free to think creatively.
Make time for yourself
Whatever type of physical activity you enjoy, make time in your life for it. Especially when you feel under pressure; if you are rushing around, feeling frustrated that you aren’t getting enough done, you probably need to step out of this cycle. Spending just half an hour or so doing some physical activity can relieve feelings of stress and give you a more positive view of yourself and your achievements. Who knows, while your body is busy exercising, your mind could even come up with a creative solution to help you deal with one of your pressing tasks.