The science has long been in on the positive effects of exercise on mental wellbeing. The two are intrinsically linked.
An international study released in 2018 claimed that exercise could actually stop depression from occurring from the outset.
One of Australia’s leading mental health research organisations Black Dog Institute participated in the study, which found that 150 minutes of exercise per week was associated with a 22 per cent reduction in depression - but less than that could also be beneficial.
Not only does exercise strengthen and tone our bodies, it helps to lighten our mental load.
We’ve heard about the “natural high” elite athletes experience when they’re “in the zone”, with their bodies humming with feel-good chemicals, endorphins, released by the brain.
And stories abound about how people struggling with major mental health challenges turn their lives around through exercise.
You might be thinking, “This is all very well and good but I don’t have the time to exercise and I can’t afford a gym membership, fancy Italian road bike or expensive brand-name yoga gear…”
The great thing is that exercise doesn’t have to suck up all your time and it doesn’t have to be a costly affair (how many of us have bought gym memberships that have hardly been used?).
You don’t have to go to a gym, enlist in a commando-like fitness group or pour yourself into colourful Lycra to get exercise happy.
Slow and steady wins the race.
Although recommendations differ, Black Dog Institute says that just one hour of exercise a week helps prevent depression.
This is an achievable goal if you haven’t done any exercise for a long time.
The aim is to get moving and keep moving, not to charge at your exercise regime too fast and too hard - only to burn out early from exhaustion.
Choose what’s right for you
The Black Dog Institute suggests finding an exercise you enjoy and one you can see yourself doing well into the future.
So, whatever you do, choose the exercise that’s right for you at this point in time because it’s too easy to self-sabotage and give up before you even get started.
There’s no point setting the alarm for the crack of dawn if you aren’t a morning person or planning to run a marathon if you don’t like jogging.
Set realistic achievable goals so you won’t let yourself down, and don’t do something because you think it’s what you need to do.
It is also a good idea to chat with a health professional about an exercise routine that’s in line with your health and fitness levels.
Mental health organisation Beyond Blue has useful tips to encourage those first steps on an exercise journey.
It helps to have a reason for wanting to exercise; Beyond Blue suggests that before you start out, ask yourself, “Why will exercise make my life better in a meaningful way?”
The answer might be found in nurturing self-love, wanting more energy for relationships with family members or simply to get your life back on track.
- Hop off the bus or train a couple of stops before you get to work and walk the remaining distance
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
- Walk around the block or through a local park for a meeting with a work colleague
- Put the leaf blower away and rake or sweep up the leaves and grass
- Mow the lawn
- Do the gardening
- Wash the car at home on the grass
- Clean the house
You would be surprised at the ways you can incorporate incidental exercise into your daily routine. For example, aim to:
It’s hard to think of cleaning as anything other than a chore to be endured. But with a change of mindset, it becomes a workout. The next time you drag out the vacuum cleaner, consider it as part of your “get fit, get happy” routine.
Walk the dog for half an hour every day. You can also do this without a dog and gradually build up the distance walked or try new destinations to add variety.
Make exercise the norm
Exercise becomes the norm once it’s part of your daily routine and locked into your timetable. It will become an activity you won’t think twice about after you get used to doing it every day or even once or twice a week over a long period.
Call a friend or join a group
There are lots of organisations and groups committed to exercise in all its different forms. If you are keen on the outdoors, a bushwalking group might be right for you. If swimming is your thing, try a swim group at your local pool.
The A to Z of activities can be found through a quick internet search. If groups aren’t your thing, then call a friend. As Beyond Blue says, you’re less likely to give up if you have a friend who is relying on you to be there. And vice versa!