Updated: Oct 13
Its confusing that although quality of life has never been higher, not only are many people not happy, many are also suffering mentally. As you read this, the chances are that you have been depressed, are depressed or (possibly without knowing) know somebody that is depressed.
I am not in a position to comment on the causes. However, I would like to share how we can relieve the pressure and maybe even improve our mental health thanks to physical exercise.
"Exercise is the key to not only physical health but to peace of mind." – Nelson Mandela
1. Happy hormones
Happy hormones are released when we have an elevated heart rate. The great thing about these chemicals is that there are no negative side affects unlike many other drugs.
When produced by the body, healthy hormones such as endorphins and adrenaline produce a natural high and, as long as we don't become too addicted or push ourselves too hard, we can keep taking them as often as we like.
2. A calm state of mind
Mindfulness meditation is recognised as having huge benefits for mental health. It helps to reduce rumination, which can help people suffering from anxiety and/or depression. The good thing is that a workout can also be a way to be mindful and in "the present".
The "flow" which comes from focusing on breathing and correct technique removes our worldly distractions. Combined with music to pace to this is a great combination. These three focus points are often all we need to clear the mind of constant chatter and our daily distractions.
In my experience, many people find exercise as an easier way to meditate than sitting still. When stationary, it's sometimes not so easy to stop the mind from wondering. Some practices such as yoga will have a meditation at the end. This approach works well because the mind has already been decluttered. It's a shame that other workout styles don't typically offer mindfulness at the end of the session (evokemotion workouts do by the way).
3. The feel good factor
Another huge mental health benefit is the feel good factor after the workout.
This can come from listening to your body and knowing that it's in better shape than before. However, there is another aspect, and that's the satisfaction from taking the time to do the right thing for our health rather than taking the easy option.
Self-purpose may also alleviate or prevent mild depression.
Working towards a goal can build self-purpose, and if this goal is associated with physiological benefits, then there are multiple advantages. This all builds confidence and self esteem.
4. Let's socialise
Humans are social creatures and we need a community around us. Being active in a group is a great way to socialise and build friendships with others whom you have common interest. It's a way to make new friends, especially when in small groups training together.
5. Make it fun
Let's be honest, exercise is hard work and we work hard all of the week. So why should we work even more after our jobs are finished? Well, let's not think of exercise as work, it's fun.
Too much relaxing isn't good for our mental well being if it's at the detriment of our physical health. It's important not to live a life of extremes constantly shifting from stress to physical relaxation, our bodies and minds cannot be in a good place when life is like that.
So how to get out of the rut?
When feeling low, there is nothing more difficult than pushing to be healthier, either through movement or diet. The lethargy is too much, it can feel like being in a hole which is too deep to get out of.
When this happens, the key is to make the activity easy to "get going".
Don't project after the first 5 minutes and say to yourself that "I will take it easy", and if I am not in the mood to continue then, after 5 minutes, I will stop. Ironically, it's very rare that we do stop after 5 minutes because once started, the feel good factor will kick in.
All reputable coaches and instructors will adapt a collective session to the needs of each individual, in particular beginners and those struggling for motivation who are worried that it will be tough. Explain to the instructor beforehand that you would prefer to take it easy if that's how you feel. This can be shared discretely in advance through social media if that's convenient. More often than not, after a gentle start, enthusiasm will grow and it won't be a problem to continue and maybe you will even want to increase the intensity.
Other techniques to incentivise include pre-commitment. See our previous article for more insights on this.
Prevention is always better than cure, and keeping active is a great way to avoid feeling down. When regular exercise is a routine and then, later on, when there is a difficult time in your life, the habit of exercise can help to soften the impact or, which has been the case for me personally, to lift out of depression.
If you are concerned about your mental health then it is essential to get professional support, and don't assume that the advice in this article is appropriate or sufficient for you. That said, why not ask the professional if they think a more active lifestyle will help. There is a good chance they will say "yes".
Exercise makes us feel healthier mentally... it's as simple as that.
If you are feeling down or would like to boost your wellbeing then why not get moving and do it for your mind... your body will then look after itself.
At evokemotion, we specialise in blending physical activity with breathing exercises, stretching, relaxation and mindfulness. See our testimonies for how this has helped people with both their physical and mental health.