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12th November 2020

Exercise and mental health: lockdown tips

Lucy Johnson gives her best advice on the ways in which you can stay fit, mentally and physically, during lockdown
Exercise and mental health: lockdown tips
Photo: Dhiraj Gursale @ Pixabay

I know, you’re tired of hearing it. You’re thinking, “exercise won’t cure my depression”, “it’s so hard to get out in the first place”, or “I f*cking hate running.”

To which I say:

No, exercise won’t cure your depression. But it will help you in numerous ways.
Yes, it is hard to gather up the motivation. But I do have some tips for you!

Does Exercise really help?

Exercise keeps your body healthy, it keeps you fitter and stronger. It helps with maintaining a healthy weight and metabolism. It helps give you stronger muscles. If you exercise regularly, you will have more energy. It’s good for your heart, your joints, and more.

But exercise does also help with mental health in a number of ways.

  1. Increase in mood

The Mental Health Foundation writes:

“Physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on our mood.[15] A study asked people to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity […] and periods of inactivity […]. Researchers found that the participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. They also found that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when mood was initially low.[16]

So exercise itself can boost your mood – and that’s before we even mention the benefits of getting outside and being in nature and the sunshine, which are also good for your mental and physical health. But the benefits don’t stop there.

  1. Decrease in stress

“Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. Research on employed adults has found that highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active.[21]” – (Mental Health Foundation)

We are living in extremely stressful times, so it is more important than ever to get outside and exercise. I know that personally, I often use exercise to relieve stress, and when I finally convince myself to go outside for a run or a walk, I feel much better – and am usually much more productive with my work afterwards.

Taking a break to exercise can be far more productive than trying to struggle through your work for hours. Next time you’re feeling stressed, try popping down to Platt Fields (or your local park) for a ten minute walk around the pond – longer, if you can. Try to walk vigorously at times to get your heart rate up, so that you start feeling better. You’ll find yourself more productive when you get back to your work.

  1. Better Sleep

If you sleep better, you feel better. Being tired at the end of the day helps you sleep, and exercise makes you tired. I know that, personally, when I haven’t exercised in a long time, my sleep really suffers.

  1. Anxiety and depression

Exercise can sometimes be prescribed as a treatment for anxiety and depression, due to its mood-boosting effects. If you suffer from these conditions, talk to your doctor about how getting more active might help you. There is more information about prescribed exercise, and how exercise helps with depression, on the NHS website, and information about exercise in relation to anxiety and depression on the charity Mind’s website.

Obviously, exercise is not a cure-all, and it doesn’t always work for everyone. If you suffer with over-exercising issues or eating disorders, please exercise sensibly and carefully, and with professional advice and support.

But I don’t want to go outside…

If these reassurances weren’t enough to get you out the door, you may need some extra exercise motivation.

Photo: Lauryn Berry @ The Mancunion
  1. Start small

Don’t try exercising the first time by thinking, “I’m going to go run 5 kilometres”, having never run before (or not for a long time). You’ll hate it, you probably won’t finish, you might injure yourself, and you won’t want to exercise again. (Try Couch to 5K and fetcheveryone to pace yourself and plan your runs).

Try running around the park – maybe not even aiming for a specific distance, or aiming for just a mile to start. If you’re not a runner, the same still applies: try going for a short walk before building up to longer ones. Or try ten minutes of yoga in the morning, rather than an hour long session.

Starting small means you can exercise more regularly, and build up slowly, rather than getting burnt out after one try.

  1. Go with a friend.

Make your housemate go for a walk with you – it’ll probably help them too. Or, under the new lockdown rules, you can meet up with one person outside your household. I went for a run recently with a friend from another house and we had a great time.

Having someone else to go with helps you to commit to exercise. They can drag you out the house when you don’t want to, and you’ll come back feeling much better for it.

  1. Commit to a time and make yourself do it

Timetabling in an exercise slot can really help you commit, rather than just thinking “I’ll do it later” all day. It doesn’t have to be in the morning, though getting it out of the way can be helpful.

  1. Choose an exercise you enjoy

Don’t go running if you hate running. It’ll make you dread the exercise, and more likely to find excuses to skip it. Choose something fun, that you can look forward to. You could try running, cycling, walking, yoga (indoors or out), circuit training, skipping, dancing – anything that gets you moving! Try following along with YouTube videos – do something really silly with a friend and laugh about it!

Exercise doesn’t have to be serious, and you don’t have to be an aching mess at the end of it. You just have to move.

If you have one goal this lockdown, try and make it to exercise and get outside more frequently. It is even harder to motivate yourself in the winter, so try and utilise these tips to boost your mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Lucy Johnson

Lucy Johnson

Sub-Editor for the Mancunion

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