woman with barbell

It’s amazing what a casual conversation can do. I recently received this from a business colleague:

“following on from one of our chats 4 years ago I started jogging/running every 3 days for 3-4 miles and re-commenced 5-a side football once a week. You had said that exercise was positive for the mind and after a bit of initial reluctance of the body, I now enjoy the runs and have benefited from better mental well-being and physical well-being.”

I don’t remember our actual conversation, but he clearly does. I definitely didn’t know he was struggling in any way with mental health issues. Like many, particularly men, he was always cheerful when we spoke. He gave no indication that he was struggling in any way at all. But I obviously must have said the right thing to him.

Benefits of exercise for mental well being

The British mental health charity MIND says this on its website:

There are many studies which have shown that doing physical activity can improve mental health.

For example, it regualr exercise gives you lots of benefits:

a) you have better sleep – by making you feel more tired at the end of the day.
b) your moods are happier – physical activity releases feel-good hormones that make you feel better in yourself.
c) you have more energy not less.
d) you get better at managing stress, anxiety or intrusive and racing thoughts – doing something physical releases cortisol which helps us manage stress.
e) Intense exercise gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy for difficult times
f) regular exercise can help reduce the effects of ageing – a common cause of anxiety and depression.

One of the big problems, of course, is persuading yourself to do it when you are feeling anxious and/or depressed. You may want to stay in bed and not interact with the world at all. You may be finding the struggle to put on a cheerful face so exhausting that you don’t want to do anything else at the end of the day.

How to get yourself to exercise when you don’t feel like it

So, it may not be easy. It may be a struggle. You may fail some days. It’s important you don’t end up feeling worse because you’re not exercising. So start small. Add a single activity each day. Here are some examples:

  • Get some dumb bells and commit to doing 10 repetitions of one exercise each day.
  • Commit to parking as far away from the shop entrance as you can.
  • Get off the bus one stop early and walk the last bit.
  • Clean your teeth standing on one leg in the morning and the other leg in the evening. (Balance is an important part of any exercise programme.)

Get the idea? These are simple things that don’t demand a lot of self-discipline to add to your life. Once you are happy with that, add more until you have a real exercise programme. You will feel the benefit. You may even decide to start going to the gym.

Being depressed and anxious are reasons to exercise. The benefits for you if you are struggling with mental health issues are much more than for people who aren’t.