Exercise and Mental Health
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
Saturday is World Mental Health Day.
Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our mental health with statistics suggesting more than two-thirds of adults have struggled with their mental health during lockdown.
“More than 69% of adults in the UK report feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on their life. The most common issues affecting wellbeing are worry about the future (63%), feeling stressed or anxious (56%) and feeling bored (49%).” (health.org.uk)
I am definitely in that 69%.
I have struggled with mental health issues throughout my adult life and 10 years ago when I was made redundant and was dealing with a significant change in my family life I hit a really low point. This was when I discovered Pilates and learnt first hand how exercise can support better mental health.
Research shows the positive impact of physical activity on our wellbeing. Participation in regular exercise can increase self-esteem and help to reduce stress and anxiety. It also plays a role in preventing the development of mental health problems and in improving the quality of life of people experiencing mental health problems.
The Mental Health Foundation has some information on how to look after your mental health through exercise and they have a great free booklet that you can download from their site by following this link: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise
Over the years I have found what works for me:
I run. It helps me to de-stress, even for just a short time, I put on a podcast, head out and try not to talk myself out of it even when the weather is against me or Netflix is calling. I always feel better afterwards!
I do yoga. I have been practising Yoga with Becky and Helena at Space Hot Yoga for about a year now and this hour a week allows me to be a pupil and not a teacher and stretches and challenges me. More importantly it gives my ever-racing mind a “time out”.
I try to meditate and use mindfulness. I find this particularly helpful during times of stress. I use the 4,7,8 breathing technique when I have problems sleeping and I really like the calm app, especially some of the bedtime stories, I mean who doesn’t want Matthew McConaughey to read them to sleep?
I talk to friends. Nothing helps me find a bit of balance like offloading to a friend and having them hold me (metaphorically speaking at the moment of course) and let me rant and then offer me their perspective or just let me be heard. It can be hard to reach out but it always helps.
I make time for my family. Even if it is something as simple as a takeaway and a film on a Saturday night, I may well fall asleep before the end of the movie but we have at least been together.
I drink wine and I eat cheese. These are two things that I love (well I am married to a Frenchman!). Day to day I try consume them in moderation but they both make me very happy so during challenging times I let myself indulge.
I cuddle my cat Archie. He is a big softie who loves to snuggle up on my lap.
I share my love for Pilates. And I hope that it gives other people their own “time out” on their mats. This really does bring me joy; I know I would not have coped during lockdown if I hadn’t had my Pilates community to connect with everyday.
So this World Mental Health Day why don’t you explore what works for you?
And how about we all make a pledge together to do something fabulous for our bodies and minds over this weekend?
Go for a walk, connect with a friend, do something crafty (my daughter started to knit over lockdown), do an online fitness class, pop to the gym, downloaded the couch to 5k app and take those first steps out in your running shoes, read a book or have a glass of wine and a chunk of Comté.
If you do want to build exercise into your week, now really is the perfect time to try something new. As more fitness instructors and classes have gone online you have a whole world of possibilities open to you in your front room. Now you don’t have to be a member of a gym to do a HIIT class, or be in a hall to shake your booty in a Zumba class. You don’t have to be in a studio to do Yoga and you don’t even have to get out of your PJ’s to come and join me online for a Pilates class.
Studios and Instructors are offering all kinds of live and online options and incentives to new clients. Free first classes, reduced cost block bookings, recordings of classes so you can work out online in your own time and Covid Safe studios and spaces to practise face to face.
But if you are nervous about group classes and still not sure whether online is for you why don’t you come and join me this Monday evening (12th of October) for a free 30 minute Facebook Live session where we will focus on Stretching for Stress Relief. What have you got to lose? Make it part of your World Mental Health Day pledge.
Don’t fancy Pilates?
Here is a list of fellow instructors and specialists who I can personally highly recommend.
Space Hot Yoga
Becky and Helena are excellent yoga instructors who have really helped me to deepen my practise both online over lockdown and now back in their newly refurbished and pristine studio in Rusilip. Pop over to their website for info about their classes: https://www.spacehotyoga.co.uk
George Hayward PT
George and I “met” though a mutual friend during lockdown when we were both setting up our online classes. He is a personal trainer and runs HIIT classes. I did a couple of his classes with my daughter and they were great! Check out his Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/georgehaywardpt
Sasza Silvaz (aka Zumba Kitty)
Sasza is a Zumba buddy and my "go to" for cover for my own Zumba class. She has been running high-energy Zumba classes online since lockdown. Shimmy on over to her Facebook Page for details of her classes. https://www.facebook.com/zumbakitty
G P Psychology
And if you would like some practical tips on dealing with stress from an experienced psychologist then my sister Gemma's last blog explores coping skills in times of distress.
Stay safe and stay well everyone.