By Ruth Hoey | Advice Editor
Mental Health friendly exercising. Sounds simple right? It’s common knowledge that most forms of exercising are beneficial for your mental health. So why is it that this often gets lost in the reality of exercising?
Well, there are a number of different reasons. However, the reality is that our culture still places huge importance on having a specific body image. It’s even more apparent at the beginning of the year. All of a sudden, we are bombarded with a plethora of online ads advocating exercise and eating plans to lose weight fast. In essence, this is diet culture.
According to Hackam, “Diet culture can be defined as a system of beliefs that elevates appearing thin over one’s mental and physical well-being”. This culture promotes obsessive exercising to reach extreme weight loss goals and reach them fast.
Why is this a problem?
This idea that intense exercise will bring about results is highly misleading. Personal Trainer Antonio states that ‘quickfix’ exercise programs are doomed to fail from the beginning. He claims that it is only through consistency that you can expect to see long-term weight loss results.
Furthermore, psychiatrist Dr Phillipa Hay argues that intense and obsessive exercising can result in the exact opposite in mental health friendly exercising. She claims that, “compulsive exercise also causes higher levels of psychological distress, including depression and anxiety.”
So we’ve now seen the problems of excessive exercise. But these do not negate the overwhelming positives which exercise can bring to your life.
The benefits of mental health friendly exercising
Recent studies have suggested that mild anxiety and depression can be treated and helped by regular exercise or activity. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that “running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%”. Getting active allows your brain to release endorphins which make you feel good.
Regular and daily activity can help your body regulate its sleep cycles. Furthermore, gentle exercise at night such as yoga can help your brain and body to calm and encourage sleep.
Exercise can help you build up mental resilience to the stresses of life. Whilst these can sometimes be overwhelming, exercise is a proven way to let off some steam and distract yourself all that’s going on.
Probably one of the most obvious benefits is the energy which exercise provides. Exercising in the morning before you start your day can leave you feeling physically and mentally ready to face the day ahead by providing you with the energy you need.
So what is the key to mental health friendly exercising?
It’s okay to have weight loss goals. However, these cannot come at the expense of your mental health. Prioritising your mental health and focusing on the benefits exercise can have on this is a good way to ensure you are getting the most out of exercise.
Finding balance and consistency is the key. Here are some tips which can help you find this balance:
Do things you enjoy
Get creative with the ways in which you get active. This could be swimming, cycling, taking your dog for a walk or even playing JustDance on your Wii! Doing things which you enjoy will only add to the mental health benefits which come from physical activity.
It doesn’t have to be intense
Whilst some people enjoy long runs or HIIT workouts, they’re not for everyone. Exercising can be as simple as going for a 10/15-minute walk every day. If your looking to get into a sport such as running, it would be a good idea to start small. Going for a 5 minute run around the block could be a good starting point to build from rather than attempting a marathon and then leaving yourself feeling demoralised!