Health & Fitness

How an Active Body Can Achieve A Healthy Mind

How ‘feel good’ hormones released from being active can help mental health

On World Mental Health Day, Lucy Lyus of mental health charity Mind shares her tips with TLL on how to tackle – and own – mental and physical health setbacks.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. Maybe you’ve felt them yourself, seen them in a loved one, close friend or colleague. Looking after our mental health is as important as maintaining physical health, as well as understanding that the lifestyles we lead directly impact on both. Here’s how to identify the signs, improve your mental and physical wellbeing and feel empowered every single day.

Rise of depression and anxiety

They’re the most common mental health problems in the UK and one in 10 people experience a mix of anxiety and depression each year. The causes vary from person to person, including low self-esteem, a traumatic past or childhood experience, current events like losing a job or living with a long-term physical illness.

Identifying the signs

Common signs you might be experiencing a mental health problem, include:

  • Feeling low-spirited, numb or helpless
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Not eating properly
  • Withdrawing from contact with others
  • Experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Seeking help is one of the most important things to do. Speak to a friend or family member or go to your GP, who can talk you through the support that’s available (read Mind’s helpful guide here  on how to speak to your GP about mental health problems). It might seem daunting, but it’s the first step to getting the help and support that’s right for you.

Release the ‘feel good’ hormones

Exercise can be as effective as anti-depressants in treating mild to moderate anxiety and depression. One study found that increasing your activity levels from doing nothing to exercising three times a week, can reduce risk of depression by almost 30%. This shows how important being active is for both your physical and mental health.

When you exercise, your brain chemistry changes through the release of endorphins (the ‘feel good’ hormones) which some people call a ‘runner’s high’. They can help reduce negative feelings and improve your mood.

The powers of the great outdoors

Research shows that outdoor exercise hugely benefits wellbeing. Being outdoors especially helps us switch off from everyday pressures, relieves stress and gives us time to clear our heads.

Running, cycling, rowing and walking outdoors are natural ways of reducing levels of cortisol, often known as the ‘stress hormone’, which has been linked to a range of mental health problems.

Join activity groups

Joining a group such as a running club is a fantastic way of improving your social networks. Being sociable and connecting with other people is rewarding and can help significantly improve mental wellbeing. Building up your support network can be vital to recovering from a mental health problem.

Group yoga or Pilates classes are especially great as they also teach breathing techniques which can help us relax and switch off from external stresses, improving our mental wellbeing.

 

Finding the right solution for ‘you’

What works for one person doesn’t always work for another – and that’s OK. For example, having a mental health problem can create obstacles that prevent us from taking up sport or group activities. Feelings of low self-confidence, the feeling that other people might judge you, exhaustion or fear of crowded spaces can often be critical factors. This is where a charity such as Mind can help.

Open your ‘Mind’

Here at Mind, we want people with mental health problems to enjoy exercise and feel empowered by their recovery. We help you to deal with barriers that are stopping you from being active – so you can have fun, enjoy and embrace all the health benefits of having an active body.

Mind’s sports programme Get Set to Go, supported by Sport England and the National Lottery, helps people choose an activity they love and take the first step to improving their overall mental and physical wellbeing. For more information visit www.mind.org.uk/sport or call the confidential support line, Mind Infoline, on 0300 123 3393 (9 am–6 pm, Monday–Friday).

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