Sorry for the delay of part 2 in this series but I have had some stuff going on so my head has been elsewhere. Hopefully I am back on it now 🙂
**please refer to blog ‘Supporting others’**
Exercise, movement, activity, sport, call it what you want, this is the most popular response I had to my shout out ‘how do you manage your mental health?’.
To those who have followed my journey over the last few years you will know that exercise has been key to my health and recovery. What it gives me is more than the physical benefits. I use it for structure and routine. I use it to give me a sense of purpose in life, to get me out of bed each day. I use it to connect with others. I use it because it puts my head in a clear space. I use it as it gives me a sense of pride and satisfaction that I am achieving something positive.
For many years studies have shouted out about the physical benefits of getting our bodies moving but now more and more research is being done about how it can also help and improve our mental wellbeing.
What we are being told
Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD and other mental illnesses. Exercise relieves stress, improves memory, helps you to sleep better and boosts mood. You don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can use exercise to make you feel better (HelpGuide.org).
Rates of depression and anxiety are at their highest recorded levels in countries such as India, China, the US and the UK. Many aspects of modern life, social isolation, poor diets, a focus on money, image and inactivity contribute to this state. Most people find that a walk or trip to the gym improves mood. The simple act of focusing on exercise can give us a break from damaging self talk. It can also encourage interaction with others and being outdoors which are known to improve mood and general health (psychologytoday.com 2018).
Studies consistently confirm the link between even small amounts of physical activity and better mental health. A study published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry has found that literally just walking can improve your mental health.
The same study (as above) found that people who saw the greatest mental health benefits from exercise worked out for around 45 minutes a time, three to five days a week. Interestingly more exercise wasn’t necessarily better, with the benefits dropping off after five workout sessions per week (bustle.com 2018).
What YOU have said
‘I love running out in the cold or the rain, it is liberating and makes me feel alive and in the moment. No music, I just like to be at one with whatever the weather throws at me’
‘Dance, get lost in the music and dance, particularly Latin and ballroom’
‘Run, run and then run some more’
‘I will go for a run or play tennis. Fresh air and exercise makes me feel better’
‘Running is the best therapy for me’
‘Dance got me out of some of the darkest times. It helps me feel more in control of my feelings and understand them better so I could communicate with others. I love being able to express myself through movement and a piece of music’
‘Going for a run makes me feel better’
‘The freedom and head space I get with cycling is awesome. You cant beat it on a crisp cold winters day’
‘I love to walk my two dogs. It certainly gets my step count up and makes me feel so much better mentally. It makes me so happy watching them play.
‘I love swimming, especially open water. It helps after a stressful day at work’
‘Is there any better way than to smash a squash ball around a court to relieve stress. For me it is perfect therapy’
The culture shift towards the benefits of using exercise as a therapy
In 2017, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry spearheaded the first Mental Health Marathon. Welcome ‘Heads Together’ and thousands of runners pounding the streets of London for 26.2 miles wearing blue headbands. Hundreds or runners proudly raising the profile of mental health and inspiring others to talk. As TV cameras and press focused on the Royals and their campaign, many people stood up and listened. It was suddenly acceptable to talk about your experiences watching an emotional Prince Harry opening up about the death of his mother and his struggles.
It was this campaign that encouraged me to open up about my own journey and struggles along with nine other incredible people on Mind over Marathon. Our stories inspired a nation as our lives were made public on National TV. A documentary commissioned through the BBC which is still talked about and respected to this day. Ten ordinary people suffering from a mental illness showing how exercise helps and benefits them. Ten people who had their lives followed for seven months. Ten people who would run the London Marathon on April 23rd 2017. Ten people who achieved so much more than could ever be imagined. Ten people congratulated in person by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry for spearheading their campaign. Ten people who would receive a special recognition award off Prince Harry for ‘speaking out’. Ten people (and Nick Knowles and coaches) who have become the greatest of friends and an important support network.
For me Mind over Marathon changed the way I exercise. Previously using it as a self harm to batter broken knees and to keep weight down, I was taught techniques and other ways of exercising. This saved me in so many ways, putting me on track to healthy exercise. It gave me back the enjoyment of exercise and enforced the importance of running with others and community. It gave me some self worth knowing that I could achieve.
I continued running after London 2017 and was fortunate again in 2018 to run it again. The mental benefits I got from this helped in so many ways. It gave me confidence and courage to enter more events. It gave me access to people where for so long I stood isolated. It gave me back my smile which was so often there but hidden in the depths of my eyes.
Today, I still get the same buzz and satisfaction whilst out running, biking or swimming. The people who I have met along my exercise journey have been incredibly inspiring. Many with their own struggles opening up to me, finding comfort in their release. People sharing common interests helping and supporting each other. People say that I inspire them, thank you that is so very kind. The ones who inspire me are the ones I see at Parkrun, not the fastest, but that doesn’t matter, they are there every week, running and encouraging each other. Laughing, grimacing. Turning up to events as competitors or supports. These are the people who I respect and admire. These are also the same people who have given me so much support, they understand me and I feel privileged to now call each and everyone a friend. They have helped me more than they will ever know. Thank you SMR run community xx
Age is no barrier. Time is only a perceived barrier. Not having a local leisure centre is no barrier.
All you need is an area to move, inside or out. Your living room or a park. You do not need money.
You don’t have put on the lycra or fast daps. You don’t have to sweat buckets to feel the benefits.
Even just a few minutes of physical activity are better than none at all. Start off slow. Start off with just a few minutes, you will soon see the time increasing and it getting easier.
Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a planned class or activity. This was a massive problem for me until I began working with a coach who would say ‘don’t worry about it, put it aside, do not try and catch up, move on to the next session’. Such advice removes guilt and was what I needed to hear when training for the biggest event of my life, Ironman Wales.
I never thought I would enjoy swimming as much as I do now (after giving it up as a child). Take the plunge try something new, walking, hiking, mountain biking, dancing, yoga, tennis, spin class, the list in endless.
My challenge is to try some classes at the gym.
You never know what you have been missing out on for all these years.
Good luck and welcome to my movement community 🙂
Remember I am no medic or health professional so please take advice off GP before participating in any physical activity.