It is important to change our view on exercise to not see it as something we ‘have to do’ for our health, but as something that we do because we personally value its positive beneﬁts to our wellbeing.
What is wellbeing?
Wellbeing is a positive physical, social and mental state. For this purpose, I will focus on mental wellbeing.
• Mental wellbeing does not have a single universal deﬁnition, but it does encompass factors such as:
• The sense of feeling good about ourselves and being able to function well individually or in relationships
• The ability to deal with the ups and downs of life, such as coping with challenges and making the most of opportunities
• The feeling of connection to our community and surroundings
• Having control and freedom over our lives
• Having a sense of purpose and feeling valued. Of course, mental wellbeing does not mean being happy all the time, and it does not mean that you won’t experience negative or painful emotions, such as grief, loss, or failure, which are a part of normal life. However, whatever your age, being physically active can help you to lead a mentally healthier life and can improve your wellbeing.
What impact does physical activity have on wellbeing?
Physical activity has a huge potential to enhance our wellbeing. Even a short burst of 10 minutes’ brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood.
Participation in regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress and anxiety. It also plays a role in preventing the development of mental health problems and in improving the quality of life of people experiencing mental health problems.
Impact on our mood
Physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on our mood. Researchers have found that people feel more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. They have also found that the effect of physical activity on mood is greatest when mood was initially low.
There are many studies looking at physical activity at different levels of intensity and its impact on people’s mood. Overall, research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise – for 30–35 minutes, 3–5 days a week, for 10–12 weeks – was best at increasing positive moods (e.g. enthusiasm, alertness).
When events occur that make us feel threatened or that upset our balance in some way, our body’s defences cut in and create a stress response, which may make us feel a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms and make us behave differently, and we may also experience emotions more intensely.
The most common physical signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, and loss of appetite. Symptoms like these are triggered by a rush of stress hormones in our body – otherwise known as the ‘ﬁght or ﬂight’ response. It is these hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which raise our blood pressure, increase our heart rate and increase the rate at which we perspire, preparing our body for an emergency response. They can also reduce blood ﬂow to our skin and can reduce our stomach activity, while cortisol, another stress hormone, releases fat and sugar into the system to boost our energy.
Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. Research on employed adults has found that highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active.
Impact on our self-esteem
Exercise not only has a positive impact on our physical health, but it can also increase our self-esteem. Self-esteem is a key indicator of our mental wellbeing and our ability to cope with life stressors and how we perceive our self worth.
Impact on Depression and Anxiety
Physical activity can be an alternative treatment for depression depending on the individual. It can be used in combination with medication and/ or psychological therapy. It has few side effects and does not have the stigma that some people perceive to be attached to taking antidepressants or attending psychotherapy and counselling.
It causes the release of endorphins that improve your mood and make you feel happier. Exercise can also give you some time away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and can provide you with a great sense of purpose.
It can alleviate tension, stress and mental fatigue, give you a natural energy boost and improve your quality of sleep.
Physical activity can reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild symptoms and may also be helpful for treating clinical anxiety. Physical activity is available to all, has few costs attached, and is an empowering approach that can support self-management.
It is important that more people are given the knowledge and support they need to make physical activity a healthy yet enjoyable part of life.
The Department of Health recommends that adults should aim to be active daily and complete 2.5 hours of moderate intensity activity over a week – the equivalent of 30 minutes ﬁve times a week. It may sound like a lot, but it isn’t as daunting as it ﬁrst appears.
Once you have decided that you want to be more physically active, there are a few points worth thinking about. Apart from improving your physical and mental wellbeing, what else do you want to get out of being active?
Ask yourself whether you’d prefer being indoors or out, doing a group or individual activity, or trying a new sport. If you’re put off by sporty exercises, or feel uninspired at the thought of limiting yourself to just one activity, think outside the box and remember that going on a walk, doing housework, and gardening are all physical activities. Also, would you rather go it alone or do an activity with a friend? A friend or family member will push you when you need it the most. Social support is a great motivator, and sharing your experiences, goals and achievements will help you to keep focus and enthusiasm.
It can be a bit scary making changes to your life, and most people get anxious about trying something new. Some common barriers, such as cost, injury or illness, lack of energy, fear of failure, or even the weather can hinder people from getting started; however, practical and emotional support from friends, family and experts really does help.
Body image can act as a barrier to participating in physical activity. People who are anxious about how their body will look to others while they are exercising may avoid exercise as a result. For women, attending a female-only exercise class a ladies-only swimming session may help to overcome anxiety as a barrier to initially starting to exercise.
Exercising with a companion can also help to reduce anxiety about how your body looks to others, and may be particularly helpful during the ﬁrst few exercise sessions. The environment can also inﬂuence how you feel; gyms with mirrored walls tend to heighten anxiety, as does exercising near a window or other space where you might feel ‘on show’.
What time do you have available for exercise? You may need to rejig commitments to make room for extra activities, or choose something that ﬁts into your busy schedule.
Will you need support from friends and family to complete your chosen activities, or is there a chance your active lifestyle will have an impact on others in your life? Find out how much it will cost and, if necessary, what you can do to make it affordable.
Right for you
What kind of activity would suit you best? Think about the kind of exercise you were involved in when you were younger and start there. Think about what parts of your body you want to exercise and whether you’d prefer to be active at home or whether you fancy a change of scenery and would prefer to exercise in a different environment, indoors or outdoors.
Making it part of daily life
Adopting a more active lifestyle can be as simple as doing daily tasks more energetically or making small changes to your routine, such as walking up a ﬂight of stairs.
If physical activity is new to you, it’s best to build up your ability gradually. Focus on task goals, such as improving sport skills or stamina, rather than competition, and keep a record of your activity and review it to provide feedback on your progress. There are many apps and social networks accessible for free to help.
It’s really important to set goals to measure progress, which might motivate you.
Remember, you won’t see improvement from physical conditioning every day. Making the regular commitment to doing physical activity is an achievement in itself, and every activity session can improve your mood.
I hope everyone took a little something from this ☺