Strong Body, Strong Mind: How Exercise Can Support Your Mental Health

The last 18 months have been undoubtedly hard. With lockdown after lockdown and less time spent with friends and family, it’s no surprise that so many of us are struggling with our mental health. Loneliness, depression and anxiety are all too common, and it’s time we started talking about them. It is estimated that 1 in 4 of us will experience mental illness in our lifetimes, and in a survey conducted by mental health charity Mind, it was revealed that ‘more than half of adults and over two thirds of young people said that their mental health has gotten worse during the period of lockdown restrictions.’

A survey carried out by The Mental Health Foundation uncovered a horrifying statistic: ‘8 percent of UK adults surveyed in April 2020 said they had had thoughts and feelings about suicide in the previous two weeks. This rose to 13 percent in February 2021.’ Worrying about the wellbeing of those we love at this frightening time has heightened anxiety and stress, and as we move into a period with fewer restrictions it’s understandable that this anxiety can reach new heights as we begin the transition back to ‘normal’ life.

So, how do we tackle this?

One of the most simple ways is by exercising.

You might have heard of a term called ‘runner’s high.’ It refers to the rush of euphoria we feel after exercising. The science is simple; when we exercise, our bodies release chemicals called endorphins. These then interact with the receptors in our brains that reduce our perceptions of pain.

Studies have found that just 10 minutes of walking a day can boost our mood, combat anxiety and improve our self-esteem. Just knowing you took time out of your day to do something for yourself can give you the motivation to keep going!

And if an hour spent lifting weights fills you with dread, don’t panic! Start small. A walk around the block to clear your head can help alleviate feelings of anxiety. Or what about a bike ride through the New Forest?

Yoga and Pilates are great for coping with anxiety, and we’re lucky enough to live by the sea, so why not opt for a swim? If a gym session is more your thing, great! Many people find the sense of community hugely beneficial in boosting their mood and motivation.

The benefits of regular exercise are endless: it can help you to sleep better, improve your confidence, maintain a healthy weight and keep your bones and muscles healthy. If all this feels a bit daunting, don’t panic! The main thing to remember is to take your time, build your confidence and enjoy it!