“It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigour.” Marcus Tullius Cicero
We have all heard the endless physical benefits of exercise and how it’s a key to supporting our bodies to remain healthy and strong. But one benefit we don’t focus on as much is how important exercise can be in the management and support of our mental wellbeing.
Often when I’m feeling stressed and run down, the gym is the last thing on my mind but when I do gather up the will power to put on the trainers, the mental relief I feel is one of the best self-care strategies I know. Exercise can also be key in the management of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety as it helps us relax, improves our sleep and overall boosts our mood.
Research studies have even shown that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication, with many added benefits and no side effects. As well as helping to relieve current depression symptoms exercise can also support individuals to be more resilient against future relapse. (helpguide.org).
Exercise can also provide an effective anti-anxiety treatment through relieving stress and tension in the body, boosting physical and mental energy, and enhancing well-being through the release of endorphins. (helpguide.org).
However, knowing the physical and mental benefits of a certain behaviour doesn’t guarantee that we can easily take up a new habit of regular exercise. This process often needs to be gradual and utilising some of the below strategies put together by the Black Dog Institute can help get things off to a great start:
Make a plan
• Start slowly and build up gradually e.g. if you have not been exercising at all, start with a 10-15 minute walk each morning, and gradually increase this to 30 minutes per day
• Set short-term realistic goals for exercising each week
• Keep an activity diary to document your daily exercise
• A pedometer can be helpful in keeping track of your activity levels
• Reward yourself when you achieve your short-term exercise goals
Keep It up
• You don’t have to join a gym – try a variety of different types of activities to find those that you enjoy (e.g. swimming, walking the dog, jogging whilst listening to music, riding a bike, gardening, bushwalking, yoga, weight-lifting)
• Give yourself a break – if you don’t stick to your exercise plan, simply start again from where you left off
• Remember that it can take time for the benefits of exercise to occur. Most exercise studies have shown a significant reduction in stress and depression after eight weeks or more
• Get other people involved – ask a friend, partner or relative to join you.
• Write down the specific benefits that you would like to gain from exercise, and refer back to these to help with motivation (e.g. to reduce stress, improve mood, get in shape and improve sleep)
SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE
If you are new to exercise, pregnant, a smoker, overweight, have heart disease or major health problems, it is recommended that you seek medical advice before commencing a vigorous exercise program.
There’s no need to start big but why not try making small exercise goals this week and you may be surprised by the range of wellbeing benefits you experience.