The impact of exercise on mental health

Mental Health-1

Mental Health Awareness week runs this year between 18-24 May. Given the current environment sharing and understanding the signs of mental illness has never been more important. Their campaign this year is around kindness and in our blog this month we wanted to consider not only the impact that exercise can have on helping mental wellbeing but also why it is so important to prioritise our own mental health first before being able to help others. In short being kind to ourselves and others.

As a personal trainer I find that clients come to me for a variety of reasons but losing weight is definitely one of the key ones. Some do then lose weight but continue to work with me because of all the other benefits that come with working out. Stress relief, better sleep, improved moods, the joy of learning new movements, increased energy levels – to name a few benefits that affect our sense of wellbeing. Starting the day with something kind and positive for ourselves can give us more patience and space for more caring thoughts with our loved ones especially when we are spending more time together in lockdown.

I have created a 5-minute mobility video for you with this in mind. Click here – why not give a try first thing in the morning that your morning starts with something pleasant for your body and your mind? It is time we put being kind to ourselves first, especially when it comes to self-talk.

Yes, we might have a few or many lumps and bumps but that doesn’t mean we should give ourselves a hard time. It’s easy to talk negatively to ourselves about our body and then exercise to try to improve the look or size of the lumps and bumps.

This week especially, let’s try to work on finding new ways to move our body that are fun and create a positive feeling and a sense of well-being while reducing negative chatter about our body.

What manager ever got the best from their team but constantly criticising their work? What sort of motivator is negativity? and yet we allow this type of talk in our own head. We beat ourselves up over that missed workout or extra bit of cake that we had. When negative self-talk is coupled with so much comparison on social media it can contribute to low moods, eating disorders, yo-yo dieting or depression. Various studies have looked into the impact of self-blame and dwelling on negative thoughts and have concluded that there is a link to mental health*. Read more

Exercise can be so much more to us than a solution to a problem, if we can shift our approach to it through kindness to ourselves and positive talk. Close your eyes for a few seconds and think about your self-talk around exercise – is it kind and positive? ‘I’ll feel so much better for moving my body’ or is it to make amends ‘if I do that workout – I’ll have burned off those biscuits’ – the second one might not feel negative but gives us power to use exercise as a punishment.

Ask yourself these questions now – How did you feel after your last workout? Did your workout give you space to think, or did it distract you from thinking? Did you feel energised after and more productive? Did you ache a bit the next day and enjoy that feeling of satisfied but used muscles? Did you sleep better from that walk or online exercise class? Did you have more patience with a family member or friend? Were you kind to yourself by putting your needs first?

Our ability to move and function is about so much more than us being objects for us and others to judge. We are more than just our body and it would be better for our mental health if we can start to think more kindly – like this.

Challenge for this week

Let us use this week in celebration of kindness to ourselves and Mental Health Awareness Week to focus on our mental health, I have a couple of small challenges for you:-

1) Let us start by bringing awareness to that negative talk around exercise and food. Just notice when you say or think it. Stopping to reflect on how often we think like this can bring awareness to the scale of negative talk, perhaps jot it down so you can look back over the week and review.

2) Be more mindful the next time you scroll through social media. Do you pass a photo of a friend or a celebrity looking slim, toned and tanned and wish them well, or do you find yourself comparing their image to your body?

3) Can you make a few Instagram swaps? Can you swap a celebrity (that you compare yourself with) to an account that promotes positive body images? There are plenty motivators on social media that don’t promote the perfect body image but instead provide fun and insightful comments on moving and enjoying their body. Keep an eye out on my pages for positive and kind treatment of ourselves through the coming weeks.

4) Let fun be the motivation for your exercise this week and see if this improves your mood.

5) Start speaking words of kindness to yourself. Create a daily mantra if it helps. I really like ‘In this moment I treat myself with love and kindness‘, or ‘Inhale the confidence, exhale the doubt’ or keep it simple with ‘I am enough’ and repeat it through the day.

With all this kindness and positivity in mind I will be running a 5-day fitness and movement challenge 15th – 19th June. Why not sign up and invite a friend or two that might need to feel happier in their own body. More details to follow soon.

Remember if you need help and support with mental health or wellbeing, please do reach out for the support that you need. Mind is a great organisation to help you work out where to start.

Healthy regards

Sara –

Do you follow my Instagram account? @sarahealthyinsideandout

*Ref – Psychological Processes Mediate the Impact of Familial Risk, Social Circumstances and Life Events on Mental Health. Peter Kinderman, Matthias Schwannauer, Eleanor Pontin, Sara Tai

Sara McDonnell

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