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Mental Health Awareness Week: The Importance of Exercise

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on body image.  Last year, the Mental Health Foundation found that 30% of all adults have felt so stressed by their body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

The UK is also in the grips of an obesity epidemic which is fuelling anxiety with how we think and feel about our bodies. This week, the Cognacity blog will provide tips around diet, exercise and sleep to help us keep our bodies in trim for the summer.

The Importance of Exercise

As well as reducing the risk of heart disease, strokes and certain cancers, exercise is recognised as having a positive effective on mental wellbeing. It has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and mild depression, relieve daily stress and improve sleep.

This is in part is because physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, which are considered the bodies ‘feel good hormones’, therefore improving mood, self confidence and self-esteem. In turn, this can also improve your perception of the stressful situation allowing you to better manage it.

Exercise can also improve your sleep which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety.  All this can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of control over your body and your life.

The Department of Health recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week for adults, although exercise for the purpose of stress relief does not have to be of a certain intensity or duration. It could include a walk at lunch time, walking the dog or gardening as well as other forms of activity, such as running, walking, swimming or cycling which have a calming effect due to the cyclic nature of their motor pattern.

And if you can exercise outdoors, even better; outdoor activities have been shown to improve this relationship with wellbeing, and exercising in the ‘natural environment’ has shown decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression as well as greater enjoyment, therefore it’s likely that you’ll want to participate again!

Here are some Cognacity tips to help you get started with physical activity to help relieve stress:

  • Set small daily goals and aim for daily consistency rather than perfect workouts. It is better to walk every day for 15-20 minutes than to wait until the weekend for a three-hour fitness marathon. There is plenty of scientific data to suggest that frequency is more important.
  • Find forms of exercise that are fun or enjoyable. Extroverted people often like classes, team sports and group activities. People who are more introverted will often prefer solo pursuits such as running.
  • Be patient when you start a new exercise program. Most sedentary employees will require about four to eight weeks to feel coordinated and sufficiently in shape so that exercise feels easier.
  • Distract yourself with an audiobook, podcast, or music. Many people find it’s more fun to exercise while listening to something they enjoy.
  • Exercise earlier in the day to improve sleep, which will in turn help to manage your stress levels.
  • Avoid competitive activities if the thought of not performing well will increase your stress levels!

If you’d like to implement a Resilience and High Performance programme at your workplace, please contact us … we’d love to help you.