Physical exercise, we all know by now, is not just good for our physical health but our mental health too. It’s prescribed worldwide as a harmless, free and noncommittal treatment for depression and anxiety. Making it an appealing option for many of us when compared to therapy or medication.
Exercise gets us active and releases endorphins in our brains, proven to improve mood and decrease stress. It can also provide us with social interaction, a sense of achievement and improved confidence. While all these perks are great for anyone, they might sound especially good to someone suffering mental health issues.
The issue is, when we’re struggling with mental health issues, or perhaps even when we’re not, actually doing exercise can be hard. It seems simple at first but requires motivation and energy at the very least, things many of us suffering mental health lulls find lacking.
Not to mention there’s the anxiety of comparing yourself to others, or even a previously fitter version of yourself, to battle with. The stress of doing good enough. Workout routines, diets, calorie counting, step counting, timing, measuring, weighing. These days it’s easy to feel like you need to be a scientist to pick up a dumbbell.
Exercise isn’t inherently hard, it’s the standards we attempt to live up to that are difficult to undertake. Rather than worrying about muscle gains and weight loss and metabolic maths, let’s remember the basic requirement to achieve any level of the previously mentioned benefits for our mental wellbeing – that is, exercise. That’s all. No specifically stated regimes or rigorous torment. Just. Some. Exercise.
All we need to do is tackle the motivation. To do it. Breaking in the running shoes in the first place. If comparing yourself to others and thinking about structures and goals and routines is wearing you down before you even begin, be aware of that. Change your focus and forget the noise. Your focus is just to show up. Get your kit on. Get to the gym. Hit the pavement. Break out your home stair master. Once you’ve done this, you’ve genuinely already done the hard part.
Once you’re on the stair master, taking the next step is literally as easy as taking a step. You’ve already achieved more than nothing, congratulations. The amount of steps, light-weight lifts, presses or pulls is entirely up to you, and likewise for the length of time you do it. Do it for ten minutes and it’s a heck of a lot better than none. Showing up is the practice and doing any exercise is the cherry on the cake.
Pick exercises you enjoy, that eliminate as many mental blocks as possible. If you’re too anxious to leave the house, workout at home. If you can’t do a push up because you have the upper body strength of a dandelion, use your knees. Hop on an exercise bike if the rowing machine is not your thing. If that’s boring or strenuous to the point of not being fun, pedal low-resistance instead and listen to an audio book. Chest exercises can be fun if you’re averse to back exercises. You may wind up with an asymmetrical body one day, but you’ll sure be thanking yourself for improved mental health.
If you don’t like any of these things go for a swim, or a walk. Play badminton. Join a climbing centre. Research the endless active activities you could be doing to meet our basic criteria of simply engaging with exercise at all.
When we take the pressure off and the anxieties away, we are much more likely to do it, enjoy it and keep on doing it. Thus, reaping the benefits. Our goal with exercise is improving our mood, not providing another thing to feel stressed or inadequate over.
As part of Freedom of Mind Festival 2019, we’ve teamed up with LifeCycle UK to bring you an exciting cycle ride across Bristol. To find out more and book onto our ‘Ride On’ cycle ride, visit our events page.