Move more for mental health

yoga

We know that our ‘wellbeing’ is defined as a positive physical, social and mental state but when World Mental Health Day comes round each year my immediate thought is EXERCISE. Yes, this is my job, so perhaps no great surprise that my mind jumps to the physical aspect of wellbeing so quickly – but I’m also aware of the huge importance it has for us all. Not everyone enjoys the gym, but I know how much better I feel after a session of weights and cardio and I take no greater satisfaction in my job than helping people exercise and seeing them reap the rewards that a good workout brings. Not everyone exercises the same way and it can take a while for many people to find the fitness programme that really makes them feel good. But the beauty for me of owning a gym is the freedom I have to experiment and tailor my offerings, especially when I feel I have created an unintimidating and welcoming atmosphere in which many different people can flourish.

Recently I had a member of my gym explain a personal situation that she found incredibly frustrating. She had been prescribed anti-depressants due to an ongoing issue at home. She had gained weight rapidly through poor diet and lack of exercise. In the situation she was in, she felt she had lost control both mentally and physically. She had been prescribed medication known for causing an increase in appetite. A lot of her original distress had been about weight gain – and now here she was, dependent on medication known for increased appetite, which in turn led to further weight gain. She was in a real vicious circle, with her loss of body confidence leading to a loss of motivation to exercise leading to weight gain… you get the picture. I was battling to keep her coming in and not simply give up – not because of the weight gain, but because I knew the exercise itself might be the key that could break the cycle.

April White, Counsellor at Space to Talk Counselling in Romsey explained this to me more: 

“When we exercise, we release four happiness chemicals; dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins: Exercising increases confidence, reduces stress and anxiety, treats depression and builds social networking.” The fact that exercise is effective has been picked up on by the NHS, April told me, and their findings suggest that exercise may be more effective for mild to moderate depression than anti-depressants (NHS, 2020).

April is keen to stress to exercise can take many forms, and that different kinds of exercise suit different personalities and situations: “Yoga and meditation reduce anxiety, boxing and running can be very healthy channels to process anger, which is a very normal emotion, but one which society often views as negative. Any form of exercise which increases the heart rate for 10 minutes, will do wonders for depression.”

Boxing and running are things I definitely swear by, and would be happy to share with anyone else who needs to work off a bad mood! April reminded me that many people are nervous the first time they come into a gym, and told me she suggests to her patients that they mention that at the first point of contact. Certainly from my point of view, it’s never off-putting when someone new comes in who admits to feeling horribly anxious – I am certainly happy to take an extra few minutes to talk through any issues, or perhaps schedule the first session for a quiet time when there is no one else around to watch.

Of course, exercise can also help with reducing anxiety. I spoke to yoga teacher

Louise Slimm, from The Yoga Woods about what she thinks yoga can do for mental as well as physical wellbeing. 

“The practice of yoga is a perfect way connecting our bodies and minds, and the word yoga means “union” for this very reason” she said. “The breath is an essential part of yoga as it links the body and mind. All those thoughts that get stuck in our minds throughout the day get eased away by the breathing techniques which help to declutter the mind.” 

Louise told me that she aims to have people leave her classes feeling a little bit lighter and more at ease with themselves. “We all hold tension in different parts of the body, so yoga is a way to bring awareness to where it’s being held. The postures, breath work and mediation all work to help dissolve that tension.” She was keen to point out that yoga is accessible for anybody, regardless of their fitness levels or their age; for her, the key to finding the perfect yoga programme is building a good connection to the teacher.  

So even if I am a bit of an obsessive about my gym, it does seem as if my tendency to think that a good workout is the cure for almost anything is really pretty much correct. Exercise can help depression and anxiety, decrease stress, increase self-esteem and self-confidence, help promote better sleep and boost brainpower. I’m happy to say that in the case of the member I mentioned above, she kept coming in to the gym and working out, and was able to reduce her dose of antidepressants. She’s aiming with a well-balanced diet and regular gym classes to come off them completely. I’m delighted to support her on her journey, and keep tailoring her workouts to help her lift her mood and feel that she is back in control. This is what I do it for – not just for healthy bodies, but for healthy minds. For me, this is total job satisfaction. 

Contacts for April & Louise here :

April White, Space to Talk Counselling http://www.spacetotalkcounselling.

Louise Slimm, The Yoga Woods http://www.theyogawoods.

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