Blisters 4 min read

How staying active can help your mental health

How staying active can help your mental health How staying active can help your mental health How staying active can help your mental health

Anyone, no matter who they are or how good their life may look, can suffer from diminished mental health.

Could you define 'exercise' and 'well-being'?

“Exercise usually refers to a workout that is structured and planned and often forms part of an overall goal such as improving strength or running a 5k for instance. However, we could broaden that definition to include any physical activity that increases our heart rate and gets us moving. Well-being is a little harder to define as I believe it can look different for us all. But ultimately, well-being refers to our overall sense of being which includes happiness, safety, comfort, security, physical, emotional, and mental health etc,” Karen says.

Anything from running to gardening can be considered exercise as long as it gets you moving. Being mindful, taking note of your surroundings and living a varied lifestyle can all contribute to your sense of well-being, which is why going for a walk in a forest, or around your local park or anywhere green can be great for your mental and physical health.

Exercise and mental health, how can one have a positive effect on the other?

The NHS recommends that adults do 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week to stay healthy. This is important for your physical health, but there is also a strong link between physical activity and improved mental health. Aerobic exercises, such as running, swimming, dancing, cycling and walking have been proven to reduce depression and anxiety.

What are your exercise tips for beginners? How do you get started on your fitness journey?

“If fitness and mental health are front of mind, but you don’t know where to start, my tip would be, if possible, to try new things and explore what types of exercise you actually enjoy doing. Doing exercise we don’t particularly enjoy can affect our motivation levels. I’d also advise people to just start at 10 minutes of movement. It may not feel like a lot but it removes the barrier of having to find time AND it can feel psychologically more doable than trying to plan for 30 mins plus etc. 10 minutes is better than nothing and quite often, getting started with 10 mins can lead us to continue exercising for longer,” Karen says.

There are a lot of activities you can try, like running, cycling, swimming, walking, rollerblading, tennis, dancing, gardening, and yoga. Don’t feel like you have to stick to something you don’t like – being regularly active is only sustainable if you enjoy what you’re doing. When you find the kind of activity you like, you will find that you look forward to your workout rather than dreading it or trying to put it off.

How can you improve your fitness experience?

“Give yourself permission to do exercise that you enjoy and look forward to for the shortest time that you can manage. If motivation, energy levels, and time are a barrier, meet yourself where you are at. I’d also suggest removing the association of regular exercise with weight loss (which is often the main motivator for exercise) and instead, make a list of all the ways that exercise can be of benefit to you such as managing your mental health, improving your mood, supporting your physical health, improving your body confidence, and skill development. Find ways to connect with exercise outside of the expectation of weight loss,” Karen says.

When people use weight loss as the main motivator for exercise, they can become frustrated if they don’t see quick results and, if there is no other reason for doing the exercise, they may give up. Exercise is really important for weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight, but it’s important to remember that fat loss does not happen overnight. If you are doing strength training, you may actually gain weight on the scales as your muscles grow even if you are losing fat at the same time. The NHS recommends that people trying to lose weight aim to lose 1lb to 2lb a week. Any more is not healthy, is not sustainable and is not actually fat loss, which means the weight will come back very quickly when the unhealthy weight loss regime ends.

How do you stay motivated to exercise long term?

“Make a list of all the ways that exercise and movement benefits you. And tap into that when motivation is low. Also, meet yourself where you’re at; so if you typically go to the gym for an hour to strength train but you’re finding that hard sometimes, swap it up for say a walk in nature, or an online dance class! Be flexible and do something different now and then,” Karen says.