Mental Health & Happiness
Exercising is a crucial factor in improving mental health, depression and our ability to feel happy. If you want to feel good from the inside out, start exercising.
Getting your heart rate up regularly helps to stimulate certain chemicals in the brain that make you feel good. It’s not all about the sciencey stuff though, from our experience and by working with people on the gym floor, we see that training regularly gives people a sense of empowerment, confidence and inner strength.
Mental Health is the key
Your mental health should be prioritised, in our opinion, above anything else. You have a short time to live out your life, which is not guaranteed, and so everyone deserves to feel happy and well every single day. Sadly however, depression, anxiety and stress are extremely common mental health issues that many people are suffering with today. This is due to our lifestyle pressures, our perception of how the world is and the high (and sometimes just plainly unrealistic) expectations that we place upon ourselves.
It is easier said than done, and if you want to feel happy the first thing you need to do is to take responsibly and ownership of your own mental health and overall well-being. No-one else can make you less depressed or anxious, just like no-one really can force you to exercise (unless you have a cruel personal trainer maybe!) so the decision is in your hands.
Exercise is the simplest thing you can do RIGHT NOW to start feeling happy.
I know from my own journey and from observing other’s journey that exercise is so much more effective than prescriptions for lifting your mood.
Where to start?
There is no specific exercise that is optimal for mental health and emotional well-being. Our advice would be to do the exercise or exercises that you most enjoy and you will naturally find most happiness in them. Do you enjoy training on your own and getting some down-time or do you prefer group training and the social aspect?
Any exercise (and even in short bursts like a couple of minutes) is beneficial to improving mental health as the brain is stimulated immediately and releases the well-known and talked about endorphins as a response to any workout.
This, of course, does not have to be gym-based. Doing an exercise video in your living room, walking the dog, walking alone, dancing, yoga, weight lifting will all work in relieving symptoms of depression.
Ok, here’s some evidence in the three below categories – from a scientific perspective, a psychological perspective and an anecdotal one. Maybe one or all three will persuade you that exercise does in fact positively affect mental health.
- The Sciencey Stuff
When we exercise, our brain recognises this as a stress (which it technically is – but it’s not a negative thing!) as your heart rate is increasing. As a protective and preventative measure the brain promotes two main chemicals.
Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor is released, which has a restorative impact on our neurons, (particularly the memory ones) acting as a “reset” button. This is why we feel clear-headed after exercise, more at ease and able to make better decisions.
Ultimately this leads to happiness and an improved mental state.
Endorphins are also released to fight the stress of exercising, which the body views as a potential “fight or flight” situation. Endorphins help you to minimise the discomfort caused by exercise, block pain and give you a feeling of pleasure.
Other neurotransmitters such as Dopamine and Serotonin experience increased levels of circulation. Dopamine is the reward and pleasure chemical, and serotonin is the one associated with happiness and relaxation.
So, there is actual ‘hard’ evidence to say that your mental health is physiologically affected by exercise.
2. The Psychological Stuff
On a psychological level, even the very distraction of an hour, half an hour, or 15 minutes of focussed exercise can give you a much needed mental break from depressive thoughts or worrying. If we consult with a highly stressed person, the first thing we want to implement is time for them; I plan 45 minutes of relaxation ‘me time’ into their diaries. This can make time for exercise, relaxation, meditation, hobbies or doing something simple that you enjoy like watching TV.
Even though training is an external physical stress, it improves our mental health and internal stress by activating the aforementioned brain chemicals. Our “detress” mechanisms are stimulated in the brain, prompting recovery and restoration. This can lead to better quality sleep and thus a better ability to handle stress when we do experience it during the day.
With anxiety, understanding the very thought of going outside for a walk or getting to the gym can be very worrying and stressful. You can adapt exercise to be wherever and whatever you chose and by simply moving and getting out of breath, your body will have little choice but to focus on the one stimulus that is happening – exercise. If you suffer from extreme worrying and panic attacks, you should definitely be scheduling in times with a Personal Trainer who can keep you accountable to showing up and give you clear instruction and focus on what to do, how to do it and when to do it.
If you suffer with depression (mild or severe) or even suicidal thoughts, exercise will help you to appreciate the things to be grateful for and happy about. The sensation of hitting your feet on the ground when walking or running, the rhythm of your breathing, getting outdoors in the sun or wind… all of these things will allow a mindful approach to your life and hopefully restore some faith in simply living and appreciating being alive in the moment. As well as this, the small achievements of getting out of bed to go for a walk will reward you with a sense of accomplishment leading to happiness.
We believe that the majority of mental health issues, whether experienced short-term or more long-term, can be helped with exercise simply by learning two key principles.
- Pain is temporary. The last lap or the last rep is always the hardest but you can always do it. You learn that as quick as that lactic acid builds up, it goes just as quickly when the job is done. This is relatable to depressive thoughts and negative circumstances in your life – they come and they go, but rarely last forever.
- You can overcome any challenge that you set your mind on. You will learn that you can go faster and lift heavier than you ever thought was possible before… You start to understand that overcoming a physical challenge is not so different from a psychological one. Just like working up from a 30kg Leg Press to a 200kg Leg Press, you can work up to overcoming 1 depressive tendency to, one day, all of them.
From both of these principles your emotional and physical resilience will be through the roof, and that alone is enough to make you happy.
3. The anecdotal stuff
From a non physiological stand-point, I have first-hand experience that exercise improves confidence, self-esteem and body image. There is something incredibly rewarding (and I like to think a lot of our clients would agree) about lifting a heavier weight than I have ever previously been able to do, seeing my body change shape and feeling fit ‘for life’.
It will give you confidence to be able to run up the stairs instead of getting out of breath, it will give you a self-esteem boost when you lift more than you did last week and it will increase your body confidence when you start acknowledging all that your body can do and all that it does for you on a day to day basis.
This applies to people of all age groups, both male and female. In today’s society, we are all guilty of comparing ourselves to others on social media when most of the time the photo isn’t real or attainable. Challenge your thinking by saying “ I am me. I will never look like that because we are different people. But I can feel as happy as that person right now by choosing to do so. I am me and that is enough and great!”
We have clients who are underweight who feel capable of any challenge, lift super heavy weights and feel strong. We have clients who are overweight who feel attractive, confident and empowered by their choice to make a change with their exercise and lifestyle routine. Either side of the scales, when we see our personal achievements we cannot help but to think positively about ourselves and consequently life in general.
Whatever shape you are, your mental health needs to be supported and worked on. And a great, easy way to do that is by exercising regularly.
3 Easy Steps
These are our 3 incremental steps for planning more exercise into your life:
1. Increase your daily activity by going for small walks, and slowly increase them into longer walks.
2. Consider going to the gym and using a piece of easy-to-use equipment like the treadmill, bike or rower. You can up your intensity on here to improve your fitness and it doesn’t require talking to anybody to get the technique right. If the gym isn’t for you, join a sports club or local class.
3. Work with a Personal Trainer to give you guidance on lifting weights safely and to give you emotional support and motivation. Find a coach that is professional, knowledgeable and someone that you feel you could develop a strong positive relationship with (i.e. don’t just hire anybody and waste your money).
Exercise isn’t the only fix
As much as we are encouraging you to exercise, it’s important to know that this isn’t the only thing you can do. We are not medical professionals or qualified to deal with mental health issues and our views are based on our own personal experiences. Please talk to your GP about your feelings of low mood or seek a counsellor’s guidance. There are free 24/7 help lines available for you to talk to someone whenever you need to.
Everyone must learn to prioritise themselves and their mental wellbeing more (and allowing time to exercise is part of that). There is less stigma attached to mental illness now and the fitness industry is recognising how important all aspects of health are, not just the physical side.
Mental health is one of my passions and a driving force of why I became a Personal Trainer. If you suffer with any of the things I have talked about, found my tips helpful or have any questions, please get in touch with us.
For more information on how our Manchester Personal Trainers can help you take back control of your health & happiness follow the link to our service page.