Exercise for Good Mental Health - Mental Health Awareness Week

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Mental Health Awareness Week Day 3

Seven blogs for seven days of Mental Health Awareness Week. Today lets take a look at exercise and how it can benefit your mental health and wellbeing.

Many people reading this are under lockdown due to Covid-19, and lets face it, exercise can be a challenge. Dashing round people, motivation, missing the sports and gym. But we all know its good for us don’t we!! Finding a way to keep up the exercise is a must and for many people is a first, forced by the need to just get out the house. I do hope that those that have just started will keep it.

Well if you need to change it up for a variety or just want some fresh ideas here are a few.

1. Cardio and Aerobic Exercise

Make exercise fun

Make exercise fun

Cardio exercise is about increasing heart rate, while aerobic exercise entails increasing oxygen intake. However, many activities achieve both of these at once. So how can you incorporate running, jogging, walking, bicycling, swimming, gardening or dancing into your routine and why is it good for your mental health?

All of these are things you can do right now. Well maybe a little chilly for swimming. The sea is still a ways to go to warm up enough for most people. You know the saying, dance as though no one is watching.  Even in the smallest space you can turn up the volume on your favourite jam and dance around the room. Maybe with headphone on if you want it really loud or you live with others.

Cardio and aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce both anxiety and depression by doing the following:

  • Increasing blood flow to the brain
  • Endorphins are released into the body, helping reduce pain and improve mood
  • Positively affecting parts of the brain that impact motivation

Getting outside is excellent for your mental health in a variety of ways. It’s surprising how a gentle stroll surrounded by nature can give you a completely new perspective. Sometimes it’s simply the change of scenery that helps. Here are some reasons why getting outside is beneficial for the mind as well as the body.

Vitamin D

Make exercise fun

Make exercise fun

According to Public Health England, adults and children over the age of 1 should have 10 micro-grams of vitamin D every day. Getting outside in the sunlight will give you a much needed vitamin D boost. Vitamin D is connected to your mood, and if you’re lacking in it, your mood may be affected.

There’s a reason why people feel happier in the sun, because it can really improve your mood. So, if you look outside and the sun is shining, like today, pop out for a bit to soak up some rays (but make sure you protect your skin with sunscreen, even at this time of year you can still burn and remember to mosturise the skin afterwards). We are allowed now!

The fresh air helps too. Fresh air helps to send plenty of oxygen through the blood and allows your lungs to work at full capacity. Plus, oxygen to your brain = more brain power.

My husband and I have taken up running here and there but walking is our favourite at the moment.  It is amazing what beutiful places we have discovered on our own doorstep that we didnot know were there.  Normally we would drive somewhere like RHS Wisley.

High Intensity

Simple High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is also possible at home. Great for a quick workout with maximum benefit. There are lots of different ideas available but I have found one of the simplest and most effective was one promoted by Dr Michael Mosely on his Truth About Getting Fit series:

2. Strength Training

If you go to the gym regularly you are probably, like me, missing it a lot.  You already know that high you get from a good workout. Of course a stonger body helps release muscle tension, increases strength and helps reduce pain. There are some simple exercises you can do at home to increase strength that are good for beginners and advanced alike.  Try Yoga, Pilates or Somatic Movement. There are many online resources you can accessand apps you can download. Also, many gyms and gym instructors are providing virtual classes via zoom. That way you can still get the personal support and have your posture checked.

Many of us are sitting a lot more than normal. Working from home brings many challenges. Are you sitting on uncomfortable for long hours? Are screens are ergonomically placed?  This is leading to stiff back and back and neck pain. Targeting the muscles with strenth exercise will help, either more traditional strength training or posuoral based as mentioned above. Somatic movement is great for reducing tension and relaxing the body after sitting at my desk, but still do some pilates and yoga moves as well.  I love variety. What is your preference? I also take a break every hour and move around. This is also good practive.  Pain and tension will reduce your ability to focus.  Most people can only focus for a msximum of 90 minutes, so take a break before you max out.

Not to worry if you dont have any equiment at home.  A tin of beans can double as a light weight for many exercises. There are also many cheap items that can help, like exercise bands to provide resistance. Have a look on your tube too for inspiration.

3. Flexibility and Stretch

Flexibility is good for overall health and is achieved through stretching.  The jury is out about whether to do this before exercise and after, however every training instructor will advise you to stretch to release tension.  Performing stretches on a regular basis may improve your circulation. Improved circulation increases blood flow to your muscles, which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness.

Hopefuly I have inspired you.  I am remember an old TV show that was on when I was a child.  “Why Don’t You!”

Why Don’t You? or Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead?