It’s January, and as always we find ourselves surrounded by health- and fitness-related resolutions. But what can help us keep a healthy body and a healthy mind?
We all have health and fitness goals, and often this time of year we are thinking about them even more. Perhaps you want to lose some weight, or run a half marathon, or get stronger.
But what many of us forget is how much these resolutions can help with our mental health, if framed correctly.
What I mean by ‘framed correctly’ is that we want to avoid our health and fitness goals triggering any existing mental health challenges. Someone who has struggled with an eating disorder in the past should probably think about whether having a weight loss goal would trigger a relapse. In this instance, a performance related goal might be more appropriate.
So if we frame our goals correctly, what benefits can we expect from getting active?
Well for a start, NHS England states that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of depression by up to 30%. This is huge!
(For reference, what the NHS class as regular physical activity is 30 minutes per day, five days per week, and must get you breathing heavily)
Of course, there are all the physical benefits as well. More energy, greater cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, better sleep, lower risk of disease. All of which improve our mental health indirectly. Getting active also alleviates stress and anxiety pretty much instantly.
If someone offered you a pill which would bring you all of these benefits, with zero side-effects, would you take it?
Here’s the good news: the pill is real! It’s called physical activity. Exercise is the miracle cure we’ve always had.
In my personal experience, however, that’s a pretty tough pill to swallow when you’re already in a pit of depression. Especially the idea of 30 minutes, which can seem huge.
So here’s some advice: don’t aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity. Instead, aim for 5 minutes of light activity, such as a walk round the block.
Something is better than nothing. Whatever you can face.
Once you’re coming out the other side of the bad period, and you’re feeling able to make some bigger changes, then go for 30 minutes.
To end on something actionable and practical, here are my three biggest pieces of advice when it comes to getting active and improving your mental health:
- Pick something you enjoy. Hate running? Don’t pick running. Not a fan of the gym? Don’t join a gym. Choose something you enjoy and you’re more likely to stick to it. And consistency is where the magic happens.
- Be realistic. What can you fit in? What resources do you have in terms of local facilities, and your own finances. Don’t pick kite surfing if you’re skint and live nowhere near the water! If you’re not realistic, you will find these new habits are very short-lived.
- Buddy up. Get a friend, or a group of friends, to get involved with you. You are far more likely to stick to something when you are accountable to others. Plus, you’ll often have more fun in a group! And as I’ve pointed out already: enjoyment breeds consistency.
Do you find exercise helps you keep a healthy body, and healthy mind?