I am going to tell you an amazing secret to living your best life, everyday and all it takes is just 20 minutes.
This amazing therapy reduces feelings of depression and anxiety and increases feelings of confidence and connection. It provides a sense of wellbeing while simultaneously reducing blood pressure, helping control weight and improve your general brain function and physical health. I am going to share this secret completely free with you:
Although there is debate in the science community around ‘why’ exercise works, it is widely agreed that it is a wonder-drug. From helping to maintain a healthy body, regulating blood pressure and other physical benefits, too numerous to mention, exercise is great for our brain health and our mood. For our purpose here, I’m going to focus on the benefits most commonly associated with depression and anxiety (after all this is a depression series) but it is worth knowing that exercise is good for your body as well as your mind.
With the stigma attached to mental health problems and long waiting lists for traditional therapies or high costs associated with private medicine, exercise is an amazing treatment that is free and available to everyone. It’s benefits are comparable to prescribed medications and when used in conjunction with medication can significantly improve the perminant and lasting improvements to mental health conditions.
By affecting the neurotransmitters of the brain, exercise acts as an anti depressant, releasing chemicals in the brain to instantly boost our mood. Working out with a friend or group makes us feel even better as it also increases our feelings of connection.
We feel better about ourselves because we have achieved something, we feel connected to the world and people around us and it increases our resilience to anxiety attacks.
So why won’t we do it? We might tell ourselves we don’t like it, we might put it off until we feel better, or that we aren’t good at it; but would you put off taking paracetamol for a headache until you felt better? That is exactly what you are doing when you are saying you feel too bad to exercise.
The mind tries to stay with what is familiar and ‘safe’, and shuns the unfamiliar which is why you may find it hard to stick with exercise routines. You may have days when you don’t feel like it but the more you do it, the more it becomes familiar. You do it until it is no longer something you do but ingrained in who you are.
Another important thing to think about is when we exercise. Our resolve is strongest in the morning, before the stressors of the day have taken their toll and you just want to curl up with your friends Ben and Jerry and watch Netflix.
One of the secrets of successful people is they do what they hate or the hardest thing they need to do first. So get up and do some stretches, go for a run or a walk, or whatever work out is best for you and reap the rewards. Feel instantly better, have more energy and more confidence going into your day.
And FYI, Ben and Jerry are not your friends, they are the same as crack dealers. If someone was stood outside your front door saying, “Oh, you look like you have had a hard day, you deserve to zombie out for 4 hours with some crack” you would tell them where to go right? So why are you allowing the media to do the same? For more information about how what you eat is affecting your mind, check out the previous post in this series.
I’m not advising everyone should follow Joe Wicks and work out until you feel you are going to pass out everyday, not only is that unrealistic, but if you don’t like it, and it doesn’t make you happy then you are less likely to keep up with it. After all the brain actively keeps us away from things that it thinks cause us pain. So if we hate a form of exercise, ditch it for something you love. There are so many activities out there, even cleaning your home with a bit of gusto is exercise and the location barriers of what is available have disappeared with Lockdown. Meaning you can do anything from yoga to HITT training and everything in between.
For another couple of weeks, here in Norfolk, we are only allowed to meet up with one person outside of our household for exercise. So now, rather than meeting a friend in costa’s and having a latte the size of my head while we put the world to rights, I’m now asking friends to join me on walks – after all walking is free and available to most people (still with a coffee in a travel mug on occasion). I wasn’t regularly walking to socialise before lockdown but it is definitely a habit I will be choosing to keep familiar.
The key to making this work for you is to walk at a pace where it is just a little difficult to maintain a conversation for about half of the walk (you can break this into stages). This increases your heart rate and gets the blood flowing round your body – now it’s exercise, not just a stroll. Also as this study shows it is important to be mindful of where you walk – ugly spaces reduce the feel good effects of walking, whereas beautiful places increase the benefits.
So there you have it, three posts on how what we think, eat and do can powerfully affect our mental health and the steps needed to improve feelings of depression and anxiety. Although, these are the hardest changes to make when you are in the depths of these feelings, so I urge you, if you are well enough, do things for those around you to help them acheive this. Make them a healthy meal, take them for a walk, encourage them to use better language to describe themselves and others and make these changes for yourself to safeguard yourself from feeling depressed or anxious.
I am not a doctor, this is in no way a prescription or replaces medical information you have received. If you are thinking of making any major lifestyle changes, please consult your doctor.