- Cara Fielden
Looking after our mental health with movement
You definitely already know by now that moving our bodies can really benefit our mental health. And you probably don’t fancy reading yet another blog about it. But hang on a second, before you click away, ask yourself this: Am I using movement to my advantage? Hm, maybe you are, maybe you’re not. Either way, here’s a list of different things you can do to feel the benefit of exercise on our mental wellbeing.
First things first: how does it work?
Well, we won’t go into the boring details at the risk of you switching off, but when we exercise, our heart rate of course increases and lots of endorphins are released - you know, those famous ‘feel-good’ chemicals we all could do with a bit more of? Exercise also stimulates other useful hormones in the brain which improves the functioning of our minds, which is just what we need on a Monday morning at the office!
So, now we’ve got that boring little bit out of the way, how do these things manifest? Well, those feel good chemicals we were just talking about help to boost our mood and reduce stress levels. That’s definitely useful for reducing the risk of anxiety and depression, and keeping those at arm’s length for a while. Consistent physical activity has been proven to reduce mental health conditions like depression - according to the NHS by up to 30%!
And you know what else those hormones we mentioned above are useful for? You’ll be grateful for exercise when those are stimulated, because your cognition will be much better! That means focus will improve (ultimately leading to higher productivity), and it can even protect our mental wellbeing from cognitive decline and memory loss. Not only that, physical activity and the impact it has on our brain functioning can lead to increased levels of creativity. So who knows, your Dragon’s Den big-breakthrough might just be round the corner, after that jog around the park!
We definitely don’t think that exercising should be a result of wanting a Kardashian hourglass figure, or Joe Wicks abs, but we do know that it can have a powerful effect on our self-esteem and confidence. Whether we set out to change our physicality or not, It teaches us to manage discomfort, whether it’s enduring the last strides of a marathon or stretching the hamstrings in a downward dog, it’s making it through a level of stress on the body that our more horizontal activities do not demand - like binge watching Netflix (save it for after). This improves our self-esteem by showing us we can do hard things, and can trust in our abilities to improve things for ourselves.
Additionally, a regular practice means we improve our skills each time even if only by a small amount, but maybe you realise you can now run around with the kids in the garden without getting out of breath, or maybe you beat your Personal Best in the gym. Whatever it is, these smaller wins - that really aren’t that small we’ll have you know! - will really boost our self-esteem even more.
And as for our sleep, physical activity of course wears us out, making us tired from all that movement we’ve accomplished. This will of course help us sleep well and inevitably we’ll wake up feeling refreshed, ready to move our bodies again the next day (definitely a positive cycle to fall into). It also helps to regulate our circadian rhythm, which can be beneficial for our sleep schedules as it lets our bodies know when to feel tired and alert. Beingwell’s sleep expert James does recommend exercise as a way to improve our sleep, but he suggests not exercising too close to bedtime, as we should be winding down, reducing our heart rate and body temperature in order to fall asleep - something that exercise probably won’t help us to achieve!
Final note from us: We should see exercise as a protective blanket for our mental health, as it can prevent damage to our brains in the future. But also, see it as something to boost our mental wellbeing, something that our body deserves, as a ‘thank you’ for all it does for us! And don’t forget, there are hundreds of ways to get physical activity into our everyday lives, and it doesn’t have to be something we dread. Find out more about that here.