When thinking about the term exercise, we often relate it to the physical changes our body will go through. Wether it be through weight loss or being able to run for further without getting out of breath. But what we fail to think about is our mental health and the improvements exercise can have on our well-being.

Why is this important? 

It is understood that almost 1 in 4 people across the world will be affected by mental health or a neurological disorder at some point within lives. The Mental Health Foundation (2018) state that almost 1 in 6 adults have a common mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression; estimated to cause almost a fifth of sick days per year. Cornwall is not an exception to this. In 2014 alone, it was estimated that 90,000 people across the county were affected by a Mental health condition; from anxiety, stress, depression or even self harm.

What can cause this?

There are many contributing factors to a change in our wellbeing including:

-a change in work (unemployment, retirement or high pressured environments

-family changes (such as divorce, death etc)

– housing (moving to a new property,  trouble paying bills or problems with neighbors)

-personal problems (long term illness, financial difficulties)

Even planning a big event such as a wedding can bring on elements of stress or anxiety.

It is important to understand that over a long period of time, stress will have a major impact the rest of our physical state. Our breathing quickens, heart rates increases and muscles tense; thought to be triggered by the flight or fight response. In some cases someone with a mental health issue may even become fatigued, have an increase  in headaches or even complain of dizziness.

Emotionally they may feel:

  • overwhelmed
  • irriatble
  • anxious
  • low self esteem

Mentally they may feel:

  • constant feeling of worry or doubt
  • difficulty making decisions or concentrating

How exercise and physical activity can help? 

As we exercise, a chemical called  endorphins are released, connecting with the receptors in our brain. It is believed that this process is responsible for the triggering of positive feelings. They can also bring about feelings of euphoria and general well being. In fact recent studies have shown that  just 10 minutes of exercise per day can help reduce stress, anxiety and mild- moderate depression by 30%.

(Please be mindful that people with severe depression may find it difficult to basic tasks such as getting out of bed, washing and dressing or even eating; exercise at this time is probably not an appropriate course of action)

Physical activity can also has social and emotional benefits whereby we can interact with others, have fun and share new experiences. All are said to improve our motivation to keep going and improve our wellbeing.

What activities can I do to improve my mental wellbeing? 

Each of the following exercises have been recommended by several sources to improve mental health and wellbeing:

Yoga

Walking

Swimming

High Intensity Interval Training

Cycling

Dance

Whilst the NHS recommend an adult should be active for 150 minutes a week, this can be broken down into short courses throughout the week. Remember as little as ten minutes per day is enough to help well-being!

However it is equally important to balance this with appropriate rest and sleep, in order to let the body reenergise as much as possible.

What to do if you or a loved one requires mental health?

Whilst there are services out there to support people in need; many find it difficult to talk about and may struggle to seek help. But recognition of the signs are always important.

  • Low mood
  • snapping at others
  • fear
  • anxious
  • Avoiding plans
  • eating patterns changes
  • drinking more alcohol

If you are concerned about yourself please speak to your GP. Particularly if the symptoms have been occurring for over 3 weeks. As recommended by the NHS.

If you are worried for another persons wellbeing please don’t be scared to ask them to talk. You may not have the answers but you most definitely can be a good listener. This may be the start of their journey. Additionally the Samaritans (click here) have some very good advice on how to tackle that difficult conversation.

We should never be embrassed about who we are and mental health is equally as important as it physical health!

#itsoknottobeok

References

The World Health Organisation 

NHS Choices-Exercise

Anxiety and Depression Association of America- physical activy reduces stress

Mentalhealth.org.uk- mental health statistics

Mind.org.uk

NHS- reducing stress

Mind.org.uk -improvin your wellbeing theough physical activity

Mental health foundation

The Packet