During the time we have been in lockdown due to Covid-19, it has been fantastic to see so many people out and about, walking, running, or cycling, on their own or with family members. It seems the general population have realised the benefits of time spent being active in the great outdoors. I really hope that once life returns to some sort of normality, this continues. Here’s why…
In 2018, I was a fairly active 42 year old mum of 3, when I realised just how big an impact exercise had on my life. It became immediately noticeable when my body began to fail me and I was unable to continue the physical activities I enjoyed.
It wasn’t long before the effect on my mood became apparent; I plummeted into depression and soon found myself at my GP’s surgery using up the entire box of tissues on her desk! The weeks and months ahead were life-changing, but I learnt I great deal about myself and about the benefits of exercise, that until that point, I’d just taken for granted.
Exercise and Mood
There is a great deal of evidence out there that shows how physical activity has a positive impact on our mood. Researchers have found that study participants feel more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity, and less than half an hour of exercise can increase focus and concentration. They have also discovered that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when mood was initially low.
When things happen in life that make us feel threatened or upset in some way, our body’s defences take over, creating a stress response. This may make us feel a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms and make us behave differently. You’ve probably heard of fight, flight or freeze response, and this is an example of this. During these events we might also experience emotions more intensely.
Common signs of stress include sleeping problems, increased sweating and loss of appetite. These can all be triggered by a sudden increase of stress hormones in our body. It is specifically the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline, which raise our blood pressure, increase our heart rate and increase the rate at which we sweat, in order to prepare us for an emergency response, allowing us to escape that uncomfortable situation.
They can also reduce blood flow to our skin and can reduce our stomach activity, while cortisol, another stress hormone, releases fat and sugar into the system to boost our energy. Inevitably, after the initial boom, where all these chemicals are suddenly flooding our bloodstream, comes the bust, when levels eventually crash.
Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. Once again, research has shown that highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active.
Exercise not only has a positive impact on our physical health, but it can also increase our self-esteem – how we feel about ourselves and how we perceive our self-worth. It is a key indicator of our mental wellbeing and our ability to cope with the stresses of life.
Depression and anxiety
Physical activity can be an alternative treatment for depression, with far fewer side effects compared to antidepressants.
Exercise can reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild symptoms and may also be helpful for treating clinical anxiety. It is a treatment option that is available to everyone for very little cost, if any.
What can you do?
If, like me, you don’t have the inclination to join a gym, you can start your own strength building sessions in the comfort of your own home, with nothing more than a couple of bottles of water, or a wall to lean against. Gym-less workouts are a whole other blog post, but in the meantime, there are many videos out there covering everything from HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) to yoga.
Check out Joe Wicks the Body Coach for a variety of different ability HIIT sessions, or Yoga with Adrienne, if you fancy something a little more relaxing. These are just a couple of examples, but there are many, many more out there.
You could just walk your dog, or just take yourself around the block, for 10 minutes of fresh air. Or perhaps you would rather stay in your own surroundings and do a spot of gardening?
All it takes is that decision to spend 10 minutes a day doing something that gets you moving.
I cannot begin to describe just how important exercise has become to me. It has been pointed out to me many times that physical activity has been key in my recovery.
Exercise has been a huge part of my life for many years. Not only has it helped me to become physically fitter and stronger, I now I find that by pushing my limits, by getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, I feel far better prepared to face whatever life throws my way.
So if you think your mental health and wellbeing is a bit low at the moment, why not commit do so something to change it for the better? Making that commitment to just 10 minutes of physical activity now can lead to so many benefits to our physical and mental health. Don’t put it off… Take that first step today. You really will thank yourself for it.
I’m currently working on my next writing project, How We Rise, but I need your support. You can find out more here.