We’re all aware that we should be exercising more. But what we should be doing, and what we want to be doing, are sometimes worlds apart. Daily life and stress can so easily seem to take the place of exercise, which is more often than not, viewed as another chore itself. This mindset can be difficult to escape for many of us, no matter how aware of the benefits we are. Taking time to acknowledge and understand this mindset is the first step in making exercise a priority to improve your overall mental wellbeing.
What is ‘Wellbeing’?
Wellbeing, as defined by the UK Department of Health, is a “a positive physical, social and mental state”. Mental wellbeing encompasses factors like the feeling of strong connection and community to our surrounding and peers, feeling valued, and overall feeling happy in our daily lives. Having positive mental wellbeing gives us a strong standing that equips us to deal with a variety of circumstances that we can be faced with throughout our lives.
Exercising offers huge potential to enhancing our mental wellbeing. Studies have shown that regularly exercising offers the ability to improve our self-esteem, reduce stress and depression, improve cognitive ability, and help us to sleep better.
Self-esteem is how we view and feel about ourselves, and is directly linked to our own view of our self-worth – a key indicator of our ability to cope with the stresses of life. No matter the age group studied, physical activity and exercise were shown to have a strong positive impact on a person’s self-esteem.
Stress is something most of us encounter regularly, whether it be in work or at home. When we’re in a situation we deem stressful, our body’s response is to release hormones that evoke a ‘fight or flight’ response. Exercising is one of the best forms of stress relief. Allowing your body to move helps to work through these hormones, and studies undertaken on employed adults show that those who have a more active lifestyle have lower stress levels overall.
Cognitive Ability and Brain Function
Improved cognitive ability is another benefit of regular physical activity. Walden University professor Dr. Charles highlights studies which indicate that cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells—a process called neurogenesis—and improve overall brain performance. It also prevents cognitive decline and memory loss during later stages in life.
Having troubled mental health can have a negative impact on our sleeping patterns. We can often get caught in the cycle of poor mental health affecting our sleep, leading to a further decline in mental health, and so the cycle continues. Implementing regular exercise as part of your daily routine can help to break this cycle by tiring out the body and reducing stress and overall feelings of depression.
How to Incorporate Exercise into Your Daily Routine
There is an ‘All or Nothing’ attitude that can sometimes come when we start something new, and it’s this mental hurdle we place on ourselves that can often trip us up. Try not to get stuck in the motions of feeling like you have to spend one hour a day doing an activity you might not enjoy. Take the time to find something you do enjoy doing, and do it when you are able to. A little is always better than nothing, and the little you do can still have a profound effect on your mental wellbeing. Parking further away than usual, taking the stairs instead of the lift, or simply standing up and moving away from your desk will start forming habits that can allow you to work further towards your goals.
Using your lunch hour to get away from your desk is a simple way to build exercise into an already established routine. Taking 10 minutes to go for a walk outside sets you up to reach the UK Department of Health’s recommended 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity 5 times a week (or 2.5 hours a week).
Make exercise a social occasion. Making arrangements to see friends for a walk instead of a coffee is a great motivator, and offers the element of accountability. Joining a fitness class, like HITZone, that offers a sense of community can make it much easier to be motivated to move, and help your mind disassociate the idea of exercise being a chore, instead allowing us to see exercise as an enjoyable experience with lasting positive effects.
Taking time to identify your own hurdles around exercising will make the transition to incorporating exercise into your life much easier, and will make you much more likely to stick to an activity if you have it already planned it into your routine.
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