The 15th to the 21st May is Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 and this year, The Mental Health Foundation has decided to focus on anxiety - a feeling many of us will be familiar with.
With this in mind, now is a good time to look at the positive impact exercise can have on our overall well being, including our mental health.
How does exercise help mental well being?
We are all aware of the positive effects that exercise can have on our physical health - from improved heart health to stronger bones and joints - but exercise is also great at improving our mental health in a variety of ways:
Not getting enough good quality sleep can be detrimental to our well being but regular exercise has been shown to help improve sleep problems and increase sleep quality by reducing the time it takes for us to fall asleep.
Feel Good Hormones
When we exercise we produce endorphins and hormones such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, that help us feel good and regulate our mood.
Clear your head
Many of us feel better if we can get outside for some fresh air (and sun if we’re lucky). Getting out into nature for a walk, run or cycle can help clear away the cobwebs and reduce feelings of anxiety.
Relax your mind and body
Exercise doesn't have to be high intensity cardio - gentle and restorative exercise, such as yoga or pilates, is a great way to destress and clear your mind.
Divert your attention
When you’re focussed on exercising it helps to divert your attention away from the thoughts that are making you feel anxious.
To get the full benefits of exercise it’s important to choose an activity you enjoy, that way you are more likely to stick with it. Any exercise that raises your heart rate counts, including household tasks such as gardening and cleaning.
Exercising with friends will help keep you accountable as well as giving you access to emotional support. Group classes are a great way to meet like minded people and get fit, or you could arrange to meet up with friends for a weekly walk where you can get things off your chest while you workout.
If you are feeling anxious or struggling with your mental health it is important not to put pressure on yourself. A bit of exercise is better than none at all, you could start by just walking to the shops and then build it up over time.
If you find some days harder to exercise than others, don't feel guilty about taking a break until you feel ready to exercise again.
Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet and try to reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake.
Speak to a medical professional if you are starting exercising for the first time or if you are struggling with mental health issues.
Mind has helpful advice on improving your mental well being here.