Shake it out: how moving improves our mental health
Less thinking, more moving. That’s the message from researchers on the impact of physical activity on mental health.
Let’s get moving mums!
Being physically active is about SO much more than keeping fit and looking good. It’s a tonic for mind, body and soul – especially for us tired mums. Not only does exercise help restore energy levels, balance moods, and hormonal fluctuations, it can be a really fun break from everything else we have going on in our lives!
It may seem like the last thing you want to do when you’ve finally scored a free moment to yourself as a busy, exhausted mum, but fitting in that yoga or fitness class, ducking to the gym, or going for that jog, could make all the difference to your day.
We all know that amazing burst of energy you get after you’ve finished exercising, often followed by a relaxed, pleasant feeling in the mind and body. Suddenly worries that loomed large before, shrink back down to size as your sense of perspective improves. Or, out of nowhere, you get a great idea or inspiration. It’s enough to make you feel like Superwoman for a few hours!
This incredible side-effect of exercise could be put down to simply feeling pleased that you have done something good for yourself. However, there really is a much larger, scientific explanation for why you feel so invincible after moving that beautiful body of yours!
The research stacks up in support of staying active.
“It was always obvious in the ancient wisdom traditions that mind and body were interconnected. But somewhere along the line we’ve created a dichotomy as if they were separate” (The Connection, 2016).
The strong interconnection between our mind, body and health is becoming increasingly clear to researchers. While there is public awareness of the physical benefits of exercise, the mental health outcomes are only recently gaining attention.
Exercise has been shown to increase the production of endorphins – chemicals that can leave a positive feeling in the body.
It’s no surprise then that exercise is known to boost a person’s mood and leave them feeling relaxed and energised. For many, it is a powerful stress release tool.
But it’s not only stress…
In a review of 11 studies investigating the impact of exercise on mental health, researchers concluded that exercise could be a key tool for treating clinical depression too. Another large study across 15 European countries found that increasing a person’s physical activity was linked to an increase in happiness levels.
This is not to downplay the tremendous complexity of mental health, which has so many contributing factors, particularly in severe cases of mental illness. But knowing that physical activity is one of these contributing factors, we can consciously begin to use it as a tool to improve not only our physical health, but the health of our minds too.
Okay, so now what? The science is on your side, so give it a shot!
Knowing exercise has a positive effect on our mind, how can we ensure that we are moving more each day? As a busy mum, packing a bag and heading to the gym can sometimes seem like mission impossible. But you don’t have to dedicate time at the gym every day to have a healthy amount of physical activity in your life.
There are SO many different, enjoyable ways to move your body!:
- Try out our yoga videos in the comfort of your own home.
- Make the most of beautiful sunny days and try to walk instead of drive where possible. When you’re feeling stressed or stir crazy, a quick walk around the block could be just what you need!
- Try to incorporate simple exercises into your daily routines. For example, when preparing dinner why not put on some music and dance with the kids, or throw in some calf raises!
- If you want to get to the gym, set achievable goals to start with, such as spending 30 minutes just a couple of times a week. Even if you make it there once a week initially, it sets a habit in motion.
Whether you’ve had a stressful day, you’re feeling a bit gloomy or can’t seem to relax, try going for a walk/run, do yoga, go swimming, go dancing… whatever form of movement you could possibly imagine!
You’re more likely to stick with something you enjoy. If you’re feeling lethargic, forget the super-high-intensity-macho-woman-crazy-bootcamp gym class. That’s only going to make you loathe exercise! Rather, match your chosen workout with where you are at. Go for a walk. Heck, if you’ve got a baby strapped to you, or a pram to push, that’s your workout right there! There is no race to the finish, no trophy to win. Just you, and a body full of joyful endorphins waiting to be released.
If you’re feeling down or physically drained, and don’t want to leave the house, accept that this is how you feel and perhaps do some yoga at home, at your own pace. Listen to both your mind and your body. Nourish yourself with physical movement when your mental state needs it, but make sure you also choose the right form of movement. Be kind to your body and mind, and they’ll reward you in return!
Have you had days where exercise has noticeably improved your mental state? We would love to hear your stories.