How exercise can support your mental health
A guest feature by Laura Bland
It’s a well known and documented fact that regular exercise and healthy eating support a healthy lifestyle and in particular support your physical health but they are also key in supporting your mental health. In 2018 Psychology Today published a great article on how exercise can help your mental health. I particularly like this article as it isn’t full of jargon and hard to understand terminology and it takes a realistic approach on how much exercise you need in order to see the benefits.
What it and many other articles confirm is that regular exercise has been proven to:
- Reduce stress levels
- Improve your quality of sleep
- Improve your overall mood
- Reduce bouts of or severity of anxiety
- Reduce the risk of depression
- Help build self-esteem and self-confidence
- Plus many other things
When we exercise we encourage the release of endorphins – our bodies own natural happy pill - and can also make the brain more susceptible to serotonin which is proven to reduce feelings of depression. So it’s no wonder that after a good bout of physical activity we have a more positive outlook on life. I know first hand that if I don’t get in my regular morning exercise then I tend to feel grouchy, be more prone to feelings of irritation and just not be the best version of myself.
Whilst I wouldn’t say that I suffer with poor mental heath my partner certainly does. He has been diagnosed with PTSD (RAF Veteran of 17 years), depression and anxiety. I have seen first hand the benefits that regular exercise have had on his mental health and on the flip side I see just how much not exercising effects him. As well as his mental health issues my partner is also a single leg amputee so sometimes he physically can not get his workouts done, on those days and especially when there are a few in a row he starts to slip back into his depression. So I absolutely know that exercise can support your mental health.
Starting out on a new exercise regime can feel extremely daunting regardless of what your goals are or what your fitness level is as you start. The internet is flooded with information and I see so often that overwhelm and information overload is what stops people from getting started. My best advice is this – keep it simple and keep it enjoyable.
If you’re new to exercise here are a few of my tips:
- Try a few different things – remember to also stay safe.
- Trying out more than one sport or activity will help you to find something you enjoy. If you enjoy it then you are more likely to stick with it in the long term
- Make a plan and then stick to it
- Look at your schedule for the week and identify where you have gaps that you can fit exercise in to, then plan it into your diary so that you don’t forget or double book yourself!
- Be realistic about what you can manage
- Don’t overreach and then burn out. 30 minutes 3 times a week sustained over a 12 week period is going to be much better for you than a hand full one hour sessions that you can’t sustain and have you quitting. I love home based workouts because it means there is no fuss or hassle.
Be consistent - it really does help
I like to have a fairly standard routine through the week. Monday – Friday I get up around 5 am and spend at least 30 minutes exercising. I enjoy having this time to myself, particularly as everyone else on the house is usually still in bed. Saturdays I don’t set an alarm and I don’t usually workout. I have an 8yr old daughter so I rarely get to stay in bed beyond 8am even if I would like to. For me Saturdays are about lazy mornings and family time. On Sundays I’ll be more flexible and either get up in the morning and go for a run or I’ll wait until the afternoon and then head into our home gym area and lift some weights.
I’m an early riser because I find it helps me to stay focused and not allow excuses to creep in and prevent me from getting my workout done. Maybe you will get on better working out in the afternoon or the evening, it really does depend on your routine, what makes you feel good and what you can create consistency with.
We are all on a different journey and need to listen to our own mind and body to see what works and what doesn’t. To be consistent you should try to have fun as you exercise, you should look for a time of day and a frequency that works well for you, and you should always remember that you are capable of much more than you think you are. Most often it is our mind and not our body that holds us back.
The importance of nutrition
I’m going to briefly touch on nutrition because it also plays a key role in your mental health and your day to day moods. I’m just going to mention two things though, it’s easy to start making positive changes with these two.
- Water – I guarantee that you are not drinking enough. As you start to get dehydrated your mood can drop, your memory becomes foggy, and your energy levels drop. So focus on drinking plenty of water. As a general rule of thumb take your current weight in pounds, divide that by two and then drink that as your minimum fluid ounce intake per day.
- Sugar – eating foods or having drinks that contain lots of processed refined sugars can also have an adverse effect on your mood and metal health. Next time you need a sweet treat rather than reaching for sweets, cake or chocolate have a piece of fresh fruit instead. You will soon notice the positive effects of lowering your sugar intake.
You can find more of my tips on how to get started over on my blog page You can even find lots of healthy recipes to try as well. I always think that having something new to try and adding more variety into your food helps to keep it fresh and interesting and again that encourages you to choose healthy eating more often.