Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Of course, exercise can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline and even add years to your life. But that’s not what motivates most people to stay active…
People who exercise regularly tend to do so because, as Blur sang, it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it’s also a powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges.
Regular exercise can have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, and ADHD. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood.
And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research shows that modest amounts of exercise can still make a real difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to deal with mental health problems, improve your energy and outlook, and get more out of life.
Isn’t that something worth trying? Especially in these challenging times when our mental health is being well and truly tested…
A group of farming figures recently issued a battle cry to sign up to be part of one of five teams – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the rest of the world for #Run1000 – a running challenge pitching nations against each other to raise money for mental health charities including FCN, EmbraceFARM, RSABI, DPJ Foundation and the Do More Agriculture Foundation,.
The competition took place in the month of January and each team was challenged to run 1,000 miles with the nation reaching the milestone first announced the winner. A team captain from each country led with a private Strava group recording the collective running distance.
Brainchild of Team Scotland captain, Sheena Horner who got back into running at the beginning of 2020 by participating in her local ParkRun, she explained what inspired her to throw down the gauntlet:
“When lockdown prevented the local community from meeting weekly, I started running on my own but I quickly realised, that, for me, ParkRun was not just about my fitness, but also the social interaction with others.
“Our aim with this challenge was to inspire rural dwellers to take to the countryside to get out and run or walk, to help improve their mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she continued: “We also wanted to give people a forum to talk, to compete and to have fun during the darkest months of winter.”
As well as helping personal mental health, the initiative raised awareness and funds for charities that have been impacted by the lack of fundraising events this year. In fact, the 1,200 participants including Cork dairy farmer Peter Hynes (pictured in the cover photo) clocked up an impressive 64,785 miles of running or walking and raised an incredible £46,926.
Run 1000 for me is about getting the conversation around mental health going alongside raising much needed funds for five great charities at a time when fundraising is difficult. #forcheyenne💜
If this has inspired you to give it a go, here’s some more encouragement…
Exercise and depression
Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication—but without the side-effects, of course. As one example, a recent study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing.
Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, it sends more nourishing blood to the brain, which can help you think more clearly. It also releases your natural mood-elevating compounds. The challenges that exercise presents can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
Exercise and anxiety
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you’ll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention instead of zoning out.
Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. By adding this mindfulness element—really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise—you’ll not only improve your physical condition faster, but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head.
Exercise and stress
Have you ever noticed how your body feels when you’re under stress?
Your muscles may be tense, leaving you with back or neck pain, or painful headaches. You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps. You may also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea, or frequent urination. The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can in turn lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.
Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind. Simples!
It’s easier than you think
You don’t need to become a gym bunny, sweat buckets, or run mile after monotonous mile to reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week is enough. And even that can be broken down into two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions if that’s easier for you.
A little bit of activity is better than nothing at all
If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay!
Start with 5 or 10 minute sessions and slowly increase your time. The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more.
The key is to commit to some moderate physical activity – however little – on most days.
As exercising becomes a habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.
Convinced? What are you waiting for? On your marks, get set, GO!
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Farming Help free on 03000 111999 or visit www.farminghelp.co.uk to learn more.
If you are in Scotland please contact RSABI free on 0300 111 4166 or visit www.rsabi.org.uk to learn more.