Exercise your way to a better mental health
Now lets make one thing clear here, I am not an expert in exercise nor nutrition. I am simply a human being who has had shitty mental health and been on a long and challenging journey encompassing much learning on how to manage my wellbeing. My words are based on my life experience and I’m hoping (fingers crossed) that you’ll relate!
Right…..so what do we think of when we hear the word ‘exercise’? I’m not sure about you but I have a vivid image of a busy gym floor with the whirring of machines and the blast of dodgy dance/chart music whilst everyone sweats. On the flip side I imagine a serene classroom with a lithe Yoga instructor teaching everyone to breathe properly whilst balancing on one foot.
Ok, my imagination is running away from me……
What I’m trying to say is this…..exercise does not have to be what we automatically think of. It doesn’t have to mean something structured where you’re pounding away, bound by a routine. It is great to be a member of the gym or part of group classes but exercise can be as simple as moving around in your day to day life.
Some people may not be able to physically exercise and are restricted to small movements. I struggled to move around when I was in hospital after first being diagnosed with bipolar. They dosed me up to the eyeballs with heavy medication and I put on two stone. It was soul destroying, especially after battling an eating disorder where you believe skinny equals a better life (which I can confirm does not!). Some days I managed to walk around the hospital grounds but other days it simply wasn’t possible. It was always encouraged though by the Consultants – they knew exercise would better our mental health and help us to recover.
We often think of exercise to lose weight and tone up (along with being healthy of course) but do we think often enough about the need to keep our mental health as fit as possible? So what does exercise do for our brains? Scientific research has found the following……
1) Reduces cortisone levels (the stress hormone) making us feel less stressed and able to cope with our day to day lives more.
2) Alleviates depression (top reason to get up and go for a short walk I’d say!)
3) Improves memory and boosts brain function.
4) Makes you more focused.
5) Enhances your ability to stick to goals.
All of a sudden I am thinking less about losing an inch off my waist and thinking about exercising my brain for a better me.
There are many ideals for exercise routines including 30mins per day 3-4 times a week but this differs for many and as mentioned earlier, some people are restricted. With my condition and it’s mental and physical difficulties my motto is ‘I do the best I can, when I can’. Exercise to me is about choices. I can choose to go for a walk today because the sun shining and I fancy some head space or I can choose to do a Pilates class to stretch out my limbs. Alternatively I can choose to use the stairs rather than the lift or walk to the shop instead of drive. For me, exercise is about making daily lifestyle choices not necessarily the ‘you must do it’ mindset. We are all adults and know the benefits of exercise as a whole but we often beat ourselves up for not doing enough of it. We are renown for bullying ourselves when we fall short and have a piece of cake in front of the TV instead.
Do we think of exercise as enjoyment? When we exercise do we take in our surroundings, feel our body grow warmer and understand that exercise is medication for life? Maybe not. Instead we might be pushing for pain, assessing our day, criticising ourselves and forgetting our ultimate goal for better mental and physical health.
Eat a balanced diet with everything in moderation, move around as much as you can when you feel able, enjoy it and work out that brain of yours. We need to keep active to stay physically well but we need to retain our sanity also! I am driven by exercising the mind these days as I punished my body for a long time adding an obscene amount of stress to it. After nine years of being in mental heath care I have realised that looking after your brain has to be No1. It is the machine that makes the body work and if we can maximise their power, our bodies will be working to their optimum.
I exercised before and I exercise now. The only thing that’s changed is I don’t feel obsessed with the weight loss – I’m thinking about the benefits for my brain.
Visit my blog for more mental health chat. firstname.lastname@example.org
For mental health issues first port of call is speaking to your GP and don’t be afraid to ask for talking therapy. For more information use the following websites – there is lots of support out there I promise!
http://www.youngminds.org.uk/ – For young people with parent helpline.
The Samaritans are a non-judgemental ear where you can talk confidentially about anything
Here is a fantastic carers package if you are supporting someone with mental health problems: