Using exercise to boost our mental health
A healthy mind goes alongside a healthy body. It may be an age old little saying, but the evidence that exercise can boost our mental health is growing all the time.
There is a brilliant article in The Guardian that explores the link between exercise and mental health problems like anxiety and depression. One of the first questions I ask a client (along with “how is your sleep?) is: “Do you exercise?”We do not all need to be marathon runners or daily gym goers. But the evidence is clear: those who get regular exercise, do have lower incidents of mental health difficulties. And there are really easy ways to make sure you get enough exercise. We do not need to spend vast amounts of money on memberships or kit to get the exercise our mind needs.
Go for a walk
Many of us now work in offices and the risk is that we get stuck behind a desk for most of the day. We get fed up, frustrated and sometimes even bored sitting for so long. One of the easiest ways of getting rid of those negative emotions, is to get moving. Go for a walk round the office; take the stairs to the next meeting and make sure you leave the office for your lunch break and use that as an opportunity to go for a short walk. On your daily commute, occasionally get off one station earlier and walk the rest of the way. Yes, we are not in the depths of winter and it could be really miserable out there. But try it. Developing good exercise habits could be a target you set yourself.
One of the best ways to get a some exercise is to go for a brisk walk. There has been some really interesting research recently about the powerful long-term impact of brisk walking. But walking can be really hypnotic and can be part of your regular self-care routine. There is a brilliant website called 30 Walks and I would highly recommend popping along for a read and a listen. The website will eventually have 30 podcasts of 30 minutes each that are designed to be listened to while you are walking. In episode 1, Richard Lewis explains the rationale behind the audio service and how it works. Try the first one and I think you could get hooked on the rest.
Connect with others
We all need to feel connection to others and finding someone to exercise with will be good for both of you. You will be getting the exercise benefits, but working with someone where you have the social contact and possibly even agreed shared goals, will give you a sense of achievement and purpose. As you master your particular form of exercise, you can aim to push yourself a little further. You never know, you might stop using the lift completely!
Exercise can take many forms:
- Gardening – also gets you outside into the fresh air.
- Housework (there is nothing like an aggressive session with the hoover! Put the music on and dance around while doing it.)
- Taking your dog for a walk, or if you do not have a dog of your own, offer to walk a neighbour’s. By talking to the neighbour, you are also engaging with other people. You both win on all levels.
- If you can, leave the car at home and occasionally walk the kids to school. That could allow some really special time to connect with your children.
- Dancing – and again, this calls for social interaction.
- If you have the time, inclination and a bit of spare cash, you might decide to try a sport you have never tried before. As you learn it, you also boost your self confidence by learning a new skill.
But the key is: part of your normal routine should include exercise time. It should become a habit and a norm rather than a chore. It should be pleasurable and rewarding. And exercise will boost your mental health.