Why you should exercise for your mental health

There is an increasing body of evidence to show there is a link between physical exercise and mental health.  In this context exercise can be defined as moderate activity that raises your heart rate, makes you breathe faster and makes you feel warmer. 

In addition to assisting with weight control and stronger bones and muscles, there are a host of mental health benefits.  Exercise releases endorphins, these are responsible for the high you hear people discuss after spin classes or running.  This feel-good factor from the endorphins is further enhanced by their ability to reduce pain acting as an analgesic.  In addition to these feel-good endorphins, exercise can reduce stress, improve memory, aid more restful sleep and give you more energy.

For many, the social aspect of exercise adds further benefit.  Fitness classes and running clubs have a friendly social atmosphere with participants building relationships outside of their friend and family groupings.  This social element can also motivate people to continue with the activity and provides a like-minded group for encouragement and shared experiences.

Despite all these benefits many people are still not meeting the UK guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week.  Common reasons cited seem to be time and cost as barriers to exercise.  With evidence showing that short exercise sessions of 10-15 minutes there are multiple ways to fit exercise into the daily routine.  Just getting off the bus a few stops early can add some exercise into the day, and this isn’t just free, it might even reduce your bus fare!

Adding exercise into the day to day need not cost the earth.  With over 140,000 miles of footpaths in the UK, walking is an accessible, free and low impact exercise that everyone already owns the equipment for.  Additionally, if you have a pair of trainers, running might be a challenge you want to take on.  With popular apps like couch to 5k and free events like parkrun, it has never been easier to go from walking to running.

Ultimately the most important thing is to pick something that you personally enjoy.  It’s easy to think exercise isn’t for you if you always hated PE at school but with so many different options there is something out there for everybody. 

Helpful links:

NHS Guidelines – https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/

Parkrun – https://www.parkrun.org.uk/