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Benefits of exercise for mental health and wellbeing

29 May 2020 | Expert Advice and Opinions, Nursery and Early Years

Exercise and wellbeing go hand in hand, and although we often associate working out with physical changes to our body, the benefits that exercise can have for our mental health and wellbeing is far greater. Many more of us are already taking steps to increase our physical activity in order to better our mental health, but some of us need a little more guidance on just how to do that. 

Exercise makes for better mental health: the facts

  • Running for 15 minutes or walking for 1 hour can reduce the risk of depression by 26%
  • People who exercise daily tend to have between 1-2 fewer ‘bad days’ each month than those who don’t


Why is this the case?

Well, it’s mainly down to the ‘happy chemicals’ our brains release when we exercise – like endorphins, which relieve pain and give positive feelings of enjoyment. Endorphins are one of the many chemicals in our brains which determine how we think and feel about situations. When these are released during exercise, they trigger other chemicals within the body which give us the energy and determination to get through the physical activity at hand, and therefore improving our general mood and wellbeing. These chemicals include Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Serotonin and Adrenaline – Serotonin being the main chemical which is targeted by antidepressants.


How should I exercise?

Enough of the science behind exercise and mental health – we all know we need to do more. But because our lives can be so busy and stressful most of the time, it’s difficult to make time or even think about making time for our personal wellbeing. But it’s so important. We can’t run on empty, and the more we feed our minds, the better they’ll perform for us in our day-to-day lives.

Also, don’t be put off by the words ‘workout’ or ‘exercise’. People tend to associate both with heavy weightlifting activities in the gym or running a marathon after work. We know that is not realistic when you work full-time and/or have children to look after, but as long as you’re getting in 15-30 minutes a day of heart-pumping activities, you’re doing great. Here’s some exercise activities you could try outdoors, at work or at home:

  • Dance
  • Gardening
  • Keep fit home videos
  • Badminton
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Spinning classes
  • Walking or jogging

It’s also very smart to start off small and do more when you feel like it. Exercise can be a daunting thought when you haven’t done any for so long, so just take baby-steps and do things you enjoy.


How will exercising help me in my day-to-day life?

As I’m sure you’re aware by now, there seems to be a strong correlation between exercise and mental health. But as well as lowering the chances of depression, exercise can provide several emotional benefits. Here are some to consider:

More energy. Regular exercise should give you more motivation to ‘get up and go’. The more exercise you do, the more energy you’ll build up, and therefore be able to do more exercise! This is how people raise their tolerance levels when it comes to working out, so start off small and keep growing.

Improved sleep. Even short periods of exercise in the mornings or afternoons can improve your sleep and sleeping pattern massively. Releasing energy will allow your body to relax better at night-time. Or if you only have time to exercise in the evenings, try relaxing activities such as yoga or stretching.

Sharper memory & thinking. As well as endorphins making you feel happier, they also improve concentration and help you to feel more mentally sharp. This will allow you to get things done more efficiently and quickly, so if you feel as though there’s no time for exercise because of workload, make time, and your workload will feel much easier to get through!

Higher self-esteem. Exercising regularly can help you to feel more powerful and strong, and therefore building up your self-esteem. By meeting regular exercise goals, you may start to feel a sense of achievement, and even feel better about your over-all appearance. These things will improve your self-worth and help you to feel more positively about yourself, and the people and things around you.


Any movement is better than nothing

If you’re still not convinced, then just a few minutes per day of exercise is still better than nothing at all. If you don’t feel up to exercising or simply have too much on, do something as simple as going for a walk outdoors. Fill your lungs with fresh air and try to take some minutes away from everything you have on your mind. You don’t have to suffer and force yourself into intense exercise routines.

If you’re unsure how you feel and think you need some more guidance on what to do in order to improve your mental health and wellbeing in general, you can take a short quiz here, which will give you a score and recommend some tips to improve your lifestyle and mental health. For more information on how exercise can help lower your risk of depression, see the NHS website.

If you’d like more tips on how to look after yourself and your colleagues, take a look at our other Wellbeing blogs. You can also keep an eye on our Instagram, where we’re always sharing tips and ideas on everything early years and wellbeing.

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