Work it out – how exercise helps promote better mental health

Regular exercise helps to foster better mental health and wellbeing. Getting out and about and keeping active is great for the mind. It helps reduce stress, increase self-esteem, improve our mood, impact depression, and some studies have even identified it as a protective factor for dementia. If you’re not naturally active, don’t worry. It’s not all about gym workouts, protein shakes and feeling the burn. Here are our top five activities that’ll help you integrate more exercise into your life.

Yoga

Over countless centuries yoga has been used as not just a form of exercise, but as a spiritual path that helps to bring about improved mindfulness, reduce stress and promote calmness. Recent studies by Harvard Medical School have linked yoga with improved responses to stress and anxiety. Psychology Today also state that it “increases body awareness, relieves stress, reduces muscle tension, strain, and inflammation, sharpens attention and concentration, and calms and centres the nervous system.” There are yoga classes across all experience levels all over the country now that you could get involved in, as well as apps, videos and countless books.

Walking

Going for a stroll in the park, or even a more adventurous walk helps to encourage positivity and alertness, and when done at a decent pace it helps to burn calories, improve the function of the cardio-vascular system,  and improve muscle tone. It’s also free, doesn’t require any expensive kit and gets you out into the world. It doesn’t have to be about going out on walking weekends, or climbing hills, or even walking long distances. If you can do a little often, you’ll soon see the benefit. It’s a bit of a cliché, but getting off the tube or the bus one stop earlier, or parking the car half a mile further away from work, is enough to get the heart pumping and the mind a little less busy.

Swimming

Swimming is a full body workout, but without many of the physical stresses of the average gym workout. There are other pluses too. Being in the water can help you feel re-energised, and help regulate your breathing to have a positive effect on mindfulness. You’ll also get the anxiety-busting feeling of weightlessness in the water. You don’t need to spend fortunes on an expensive gym membership, as most towns and cities have a swimming pool. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, wild swimming in rivers, lakes and the sea is becoming more popular, and combines the health benefits of swimming with the positive mental impact of being closer to nature.

Dancing

Perhaps not an obvious choice for 2017, but a Swedish study found that girls struggling with depression, stress and anxiety who took weekly dance classes improved their mental health and reported a boost in mood. What’s more, these positive effects lasted up to eight months after the classes ended! Other studies have linked dancing to higher levels of self-confidence and self-esteem. On top of this, dance brings all the health benefits of sport, as well as the chance to meet people, and listen to a few tunes. There’s only one downside, dancing on tables after one too many cocktails with the girls probably doesn’t count.

There are of course, countless other ways to get the heart pumping and the mind a little clearer. The key is finding something that works for your fitness level and your lifestyle, and then finding a regular place for it in your lifestyle.