The role of mental health has become a topic of increasing public focus as of late. We all want to feel good and our minds seem be a pretty important place to start. This is brilliant! Our ability to eat, sleep and socialise effectively often hinges on our mental health, so working to keep our minds healthy is something we can all benefit from.
That being said, what we mean when we discuss mental wellbeing isn't always clear. Mental wellbeing does not have a concrete definition, but instead encapsulates many different aspects of mental health. This often includes positive mentality and self-esteem, or how we handle difficult situations and conduct ourselves in daily life.
One of the biggest ways that we can influence our mental wellbeing is through consistent exercise. When we exercise we feel more confident and happier in general, boosting our confidence and making us healthier. Studies suggest that regular exercise can be a way of lessening symptoms of anxiety and depression in addition to the physical benefits. Some of the many other benefits of exercise include:
- Natural energy boost
- Can help us feel more in control
- Good for our heart health
- Can keep our joints supple as we get older
Being active is also a great way to meet new people and provide new opportunities. With all these positives, making exercise a consistent part of our lives looks like a pretty good deal. This guide includes ways to really lean into making sure that your activities benefit you and keep your body and mind healthy.
Replace old routines
Due to the current state of the world, it can be especially difficult to stick to a routine implemented through schedules that you no longer need to keep. If you are now working from home, you may be tempted to sleep through the time that you would usually spend commuting to the office.
A method of being more active would be to use the time for an exercise of your choice. Keep your old alarm and perhaps go for a walk or do some stretches to start your day during the window of time that you would usually get ready to head out. Following this method gives you two windows a day for you to focus on being active that taps into old habits without changing your current schedule too drastically. Another way to do this is to sprinkle in little activities throughout your day. For example, try and pair your household chores with a little extra high-energy session to really hammer home the benefits.
Remember: Exercise can take many forms
When we say exercise, we may picture intense sessions at the nearby gym of hitting the treadmill or lifting weights. This doesn’t have to be the only option. Research has found that simply taking a walk can boost your mood, regardless of your aims or the results you may be expecting. Even just going to the shops uses up energy, so we can plan how we want to exercise around a daily schedule. Gradually building up your stamina little by little, so you can keep pushing ahead!
Physical activity can take many different forms and doesn’t always have to be separate from your daily routine. Even small bursts of exercise such as putting the washing on the line as fast as you can do that little extra bit towards your physical and emotional wellbeing. Exercise can be walking to work rather than taking the bus, or spending a little extra time on chores that require physical effort, such as working in the garden. If you usually walk from place to place, can you go that little bit faster? Is getting off the bus one stop before a viable option for you? Think about what steps you can take to gradually build up your daily activity levels.
One of the biggest hurdles we face is actually working up the motivation to start exercising in the first place. We worry about not being good enough or that we simply aren't doing enough. Remember to be fair to yourself- reward yourself if you complete a task you've set for yourself. Even the smaller steps can help us build up our energy and get accustomed to being active more regularly. If you can't achieve your goals straight away then just remember that this is completely normal, if it was easy then everyone would be masters of exercise.
It can be beneficial to find ways of keeping track of progress as you continue to grow. You could make a physical note on your calendar when you do an activity that day, maybe in a specific colour to make it stand out. Having a clear way of tracking our progress can be great for our sense of motivation and reminds us that we are always improving. We won't always see the improvement straight away, but that doesn't mean that it isn't there. As your abilities begin to grow, your confidence will too!
Make it about enjoyment rather than the result
A pretty big number of us find that body image really hinders our motivation when it comes to exercise. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to others as a means of measuring our progress, which can trip us up before we've even begun. Studies suggest that if we push ourselves too hard too regularly, it can do more harm than good.
It’s always worth trying to focus on how activities can benefit you, not those around you. Find an activity that works to your strengths and gives you the boost you need without feeling like you need to struggle to succeed. If you are someone that enjoys beautiful scenery, then perhaps taking a walk or a bike ride can lend itself to appreciating the sights as you move. In the UK there are numerous beautiful and lush green paths that you can try, and (lucky for you!) we have made a list of Bamae’s personal favorites in case this method happens to strike your fancy.
You could also try joining group activities in your area, evaluate different options to see which activities you enjoy the most- so you are more likely to stick with them in the long term. Plus, this can be a great opportunity to socialise with other like-minded people and learn new things. Who knows? You might just surprise yourself.
Know your own mind
When people struggle to work up the motivation they often take it to heart. They think I'm doing something wrong. This isn't being fair to ourselves at all, we aren't machines and will have harder days no matter how much work we put in. Procrastination and tiredness are aspects of life we cannot ever completely erase, but that shouldn't stop us. Instead, we should try to be a little more patient with ourselves when we begin to struggle, and lean on those around us for a boost of motivation should we need it.
It's never too late to start, and even a little can do wonders. So if you can’t bring yourself to completely do a routine for whatever reason, try not to panic! Pushing yourself when you don't feel up to it can put you at risk of burning out completely, which is the last thing anyone wants. Feeling proactive is brilliant and wanting to push yourself is even better, but we need to have a good understanding of our limits lest we fly a little too close to the sun.
The overarching theme we can see that really makes or breaks an effective exercise routine is how we consider our own progress. The aim is to look at physical activity as a way to make us better and healthier, rather than using it as just another set of standards to judge and compare ourselves against. Even if our physical health improves our mental health suffers under the pressure. Try to keep in mind that any and all progress is valuable, and if you feel good while doing it then I would consider that a job very well done.
Dr. Adrian Raby: Benefits of Exercise, Bupa, online, available: https://www.bupa.co.uk/health-information/exercise-fitness/benefits-of-exercise
Christian Jarrett (2017) 10 ways that running changes your mind and brain, BPS, online, available:
Mental Health Foundation: How to look after your mental health using exercise, online, available: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise