Mental Health and wellbeing (how pets can support your mental wellbeing)


As you will know if you follow me, I love to talk about all the benefits that exercise can bring to help us become fitter and stronger; for me exercise is so much more than losing weight or changing our appearance.

This month includes mental health awareness week and there are lots of articles being shared about how to maintain positive wellbeing.  Exercise is obviously key to keeping fit and healthy, but other things like: eating well, being out in nature; looking after animals or helping others are all key pillars to help us maintain a positive wellbeing.  With the many ways to top up the feel-good factor that include exercise why not try this month to put your best foot forward when it comes mental wellbeing, it can be a fun way to feel better but also to help us vary our workout routines and build variation and constancy of movement.

There are four key hormones for our inner happiness:-

HormoneWe get this from
Endorphins – the pain killerMovement to music, moving our bodies, laughing  
Oxytocin – the love hormoneHugging, petting animals, helping others  
Dopamine – the reward chemicalPracticing self-care, eating nice food, completing a task, getting enough sleep.
Serotonin – the mood stabiliserSunshine, nature, mindful walking  

If we can find an exercise or movement that hits a couple of these happy hormones then we might find a movement pattern that we fall in love with. For me my Spinning® classes are all about endorphins, exercising to fun music gives a big hit of one of the happy hormones. Jogging, walking, cycling, exercising outside on a sunny day is also a good way to release both endorphins and serotonin.  We are all individuals, and it is important to find out what really works for us.

If you can incorporate a pet into your exercise that is a great way to give a boost of endorphins and oxytocin. Easy if you have a dog (or can walk a friend’s dog) to encourage lots of activity outside.  Cats are also good at joining in/distracting you on your mat work in an online yoga/Pilates/ab workout. If you don’t have pets – could you add in walks outside to your routine?  Perhaps choose to visit fields nearby, with horses, cows, sheep etc in them or choose to walk by the river and feed the ducks.   

Victor the cat laying out on gym mat
Victor the cat laying out on gym mat

Spring is firmly here, with summer on the way and that makes us more inclined to get outside, helping us to produce more of some of these hormones.  My spring challenge to you, is to try and tick off a couple of these mood boosting activities a day – treat it like a game of bingo and if you do all four in one day then you can stand up and shout ‘Bingo’ or better yet ‘Boosted!’ If you can intentionally adapt activities to make them happiness boosting check in after you’ve done them and ask if you feel better/happier/more peaceful – reinforcing the benefits you feel will help you feel motivated to get doing them again and again.

Being present in your time with your pets and your movement, can help the brain temporarily break the stress hormones production helping us to feel better. For more about this please read my blog  ‘Using exercise to manage stress’ There are so many fun ways to incorporate a workout with a dog (depending on their age and ability) besides running and walking with them.  Why not include playing catch in the park, frisbee, dancing, yoga and a bit more adventurous open water swimming with your dog.

Tilly the dog laying on mat mid workout
Tilly the dog laying on mat mid workout

Despite doing all the above to help us feel our best and trying to do what we can to induce feelings of happiness – sometimes we need a bigger hand. With mental health awareness week running from 9th -15th May 2022 it is a great time to check in with how we are feeling and how we are coping with the ever-changing environment. It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit low every now and then, but prolonged negative feeling might be a flag that we need a bit of external help. Mind (Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 – Mind) have some brilliant resources available not just for ourselves but for friends and family who might also be having a hard time. 

When you read the grid above doesn’t it reinforce the reasons we look forward to a holiday so much. I hope you manage to have a holiday this summer – I’m certainly looking forward to a break in June for all the reasons below!   

  • Swimming in the sea/outdoor pool (endorphins and serotonin),
  • Going on walks (endorphins and serotonin),
  • Eating out in the sun (dopamine and serotonin).
  • Getting better sleep (oxytocin),
  • Sunshine (serotonin),
  • Laughing (endorphins).

If you would like to chat about fitting in workouts outside into your weekly routine, please do get in touch.

Sara McDonnell

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