Mental Health Matters: Physical Exercise and Mental Health

Two women and a man walking and walkingWhen we revisited the Power of Small and the importance of taking the time to talk last month, you may remember that one of the suggestions was to walk and talk. In this blog we’re expanding on the theme of walking and talking by looking at the effects that physical activity can have on mental health.

I’m not suggesting that everyone go out and purchase a gym membership as a means of improving their mental health, but this blog will look at simple steps people can take, often for free, in order to help improve and maintain positive mental health.

Where Do You Start?

two women doing yoga in a fieldFinding an activity you enjoy can give you a goal to aim for, help find a sense of purpose and possibly meet people and expand your social network. For some people this may be harder perhaps due to physical disability or a health condition – the NHS have a great resource on their website which provides helpful hints and tips about being more active.

What ever you choose to do, working within the limitations of your body is important even though this may be frustrating for those who used to be more physically active in the past. Over time, as the body adjusts to the new activity new goals can be set.

If you are able to be physically active outside this is even better, research has shown that being in nature can make us feel happier and reduce levels of depression and anxiety. And I doubt I am alone in remembering the great feeling of relief and pleasure that came from taking my hourly walk outside the confines of my dwelling during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Being physically active tends to be easier if you choose an activity you enjoy and fits around your daily life. Forcing yourself to do something you don’t enjoy means you are more likely to stop doing it and as such do not see the benefits to your mental health. Don’t be afraid to try something new, or to stop doing something if you don’t enjoy it, its important to find the activity that works for you.

What Are The Effects On Your Mental Health?

Infographic showing benefits of exercise on mental healthBeing more active makes you more tired at the end of the day which helps you to sleep better, physical activity releases feel-good hormones which in turn give you more energy and make you feel better and can help manage stress and anxiety, or intrusive and racing thoughts by releasing cortisol to the brain and diverting attention from our thoughts to the activity.

Whatever you choose to do, keep experimenting with activities and timings until you find what works for you.

How Can You Build Exercise Into Your Day?

By incorporating exercise into your daily routine, you can ensure you’re moving regularly and building sustainable and healthy habits.

If possible, one switch you could make is walking or cycling to work instead of driving or using public transport. By giving yourself that time before and after work, you have time to think about the day ahead and process your working day, all while benefitting from being outside.

However not everyone lives close enough to their work for this to be a viable option – instead you could utilise some of your time at lunch to take a short walk, or even partake in some office yoga if this is something your workplace offers!

Taking this time to get some light exercise during your work day gives your mind a break and can help to lower stress – have a go and see what changes you notice!

Written by Neil Ward, Training Consultant at WA Management.

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