Taking Care of your mental well-being through Movement

Mental Heath Awareness

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is from 15- 21 May and focuses on the theme of  ‘anxiety’.  The website for the Mental Health Foundation starts by saying that many adults experience anxiety, it is a normal emotion which can be managed, however, sometimes it can get a little out of control, which is a really important point. It is totally normal to experience a full range of emotions, but we only really need to take measures to intervene when they start to take over our days.

The link between mental health and exercise has long been acknowledged.  The type of exercise you take does not really matter from getting out in nature for a walk, going for a run, playing team sports or taking a bike ride – or a combination of different types of exercise, it all helps.  Exercise helps us to manage our mental well-being by reducing stress and breaking the fight-or-flight patterns of hormones in the body.

This year more than others, people are worrying about their finances, which is a reoccurring topic of discussion.  The Mental Health Foundation have some great tips in their recent article What can we do to cope with feelings of anxiety?, which outlines some ideas on how we manage these feelings.  Ideas include: focusing on breathing, spending time outside, exercising and, of course, also seeking professional help or support when needed.

As my area of expertise is around increasing our movement, I thought I would focus on sharing some tips on how to keep anxiety at bay through movement.  So a little about the science – we know that exercise helps us to improve our mood, but why does this happen?  Exercise can have a calming effect on the production of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin, which helps us to step away from the fight-or-flight mode.  Cortisol production is particularly present in moments of anxiety, as is an imbalance in the hormones that are related to reproduction, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.  We also see anxiety being particularly prominent for women as they transition through menopause, largely down to this change in hormone balance.

Exercise is also linked to the production of our happy hormones, serotonin, endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin. Endorphins are released after more dynamic exercise eg: something that gets your heart rate up and can be described as a feeling of euphoria or pleasure. Serotonin is generally responsible for feelings of calm and well-being and plays a part in how we sleep, our appetite and our general mood. We can help its release by doing exercises that increase our heart rate, so a cardio workout (low or high impact) can get you a hit of both serotonin and endorphins. Dopamine is sometimes known as the reward hormone, the satisfaction of achieving a task from learning something new and can be triggered with movement. Oxytocin is the hormone linked to self-esteem and trust it can be released when you listen to music (during exercise ….perhaps), meditate and do yoga.

Tapping into your personality type.

Now that we understand what is happening with our hormones to make us feel stressed or anxious let’s start to think about planning how we introduce more exercise into our daily lives.  Think about your personality and how you work best.  For example, I am a task-based person, and I wanted to include more movement into my day to help improve my running technique.  Knowing how I work, I printed off a three-week grid and attached it to the bottom of my calendar so that I could tick off a task each time I completed it.  This was great as it not only served as a physical tick to complete (which tapped into my dopamine levels) but also served as a reminder not to forget.  This worked so well that I have now added a couple of other things that I also wanted to remember to do, including eating a proper breakfast, taking my vitamins, completing an extra run per week and enjoying a spin workout on my bike.

By contrast, if you are the sort of person that likes measuring progress, you might be able to utilise this personality trait by tracking your progress with a goal over time.  There are many ways you could do this eg: the time it takes to complete your weekly 5K run or your weekly 10-mile bike ride, tracking the increase in weight you can lift with a dumbbell at the gym or joining a new team sport eg: football, rugby, netball or hockey.

How could you introduce more movement into your day?  Not only to help keep anxiety at bay but to ensure you take care of yourself.  If you are keen to introduce more exercise into your week but are unsure where to start, please get in touch to see how I could help.

Past blog posts around mental health and exercise

Using exercise to manage stress (revolutions.fit)

Making movement part of your mental wellbeing toolkit. (revolutions.fit)

How does exercise help my mental health? – Revolutions Fit

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

Sara McDonnell

Leave a Comment