MENTAL HEALTH & FITNESS

Written by Personal Trainer: Martin Zulu

WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. 

Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry, Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse, Family history of mental health problems.

 

MOST COMMON TYPES:

– Clinical depression A mental health disorder characterised by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.

– Anxiety disorder A mental health disorder characterised by feelings of worry, anxiety or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities.

– Bipolar disorder A disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.

– Dementia A group of thinking and social symptoms that interferes with daily functioning.

– Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) A chronic condition including attention difficulty, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

– Schizophrenia A disorder that affects a person’s ability to think, feel and behave clearly.

– Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) Excessive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviours (compulsions).

– Autism A serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact.

– Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) A disorder characterised by failure to recover after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event.

 

EARLY WARNING SIGNS

Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviours can be an early warning sign of a problem:

– Eating or sleeping too much or too little

– Pulling away from people and usual activities

– Having low or no energy

– Feeling numb or like nothing matters

– Having unexplained aches and pains

– Feeling helpless or hopeless

– Smoking, drinking or using drugs more than usual

– Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared

– Yelling or fighting with family and friends

– Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships

– Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head

– Hearing voices or believing things that are not true

– Thinking of harming yourself or others

– Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school

 

MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLNESS

Positive mental health allows people to:

Realize your full potential, Cope with the stresses of life, Work productively, Make meaningful contributions to your communities. Ways to maintain positive mental health include: Getting professional help if you need it, Connecting with others, Staying positive, Getting physically active, Helping others, Getting enough sleep, Developing coping skills

 

POSITIVE MENTAL HEALTH THROUGH PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Physical activity has a huge potential to enhance our wellbeing. Even a short burst of 10 minutes; brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood. Participation in regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress and anxiety. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. When you are struggling with your mental health, getting active may be one of the last things you feel like doing. But if you can muster the energy, evidence shows that exercise has a powerfully beneficial effect. Exercise promotes physiological and neurochemical responses that make you feel good. When we exercise, the brain releases endorphins, as well as dopamine and serotonin, very often, these same chemicals form part of antidepressant drugs. When you’re exercising, you are improving your self-esteem, mastering a new task and meeting new people. All of this forms part of the mix. 

 

HOW TO IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH THROUGH PHYSICAL ACTIVITY ONE STEP AT A TIME:

  1. Start small, your goals should be really achievable.
  2. Take it slowly and be proud of every step you take.
  3. Fitness is not linear, you will have setbacks along the way and shouldn’t feel discouraged.
  4. Exercise with a trusted friend or personal trainer, so that you have someone to check in with if you are feeling anxious.
  5. Aim to increase the amount of your physical activity or fitness training over the course of a month.

 

7 EXERCISES TO BOOST YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

WALKING FOR MENTAL HEALTH

The simplest, most accessible and most affordable exercise of all. I endorse putting one foot in front of the other in order to improve mental wellbeing. 

 

My top suggestion here is that any exercise is a great idea, a small ten-minute walk in nature can be of huge benefit to mental health. What is very important to remember is that moving your body, in a way that is effortless and enjoyable, is the best way to start. Don’t put too many harsh goals down. If you do that it will be less likely that you will want to do it, and in turn, it just doesn’t get done. Research has found that low-intensity aerobic activity is the best form of exercise for encouraging positive thoughts and improving alertness, so starting off slow and building up pace and distance as you go could have a big payoff in terms of making mental health strides. Gentle, low impact exercise may also be the best choice initially if you suffer from a physical health problem or are prone to panic attacks, which can affect breathing. For a little extra motivation invite your friends to the walking challenges on the Fitness Apps.

 

YOGA FOR MENTAL HEALTH

Perhaps a bit of an obvious choice, but if you’d like to complement walking with something a little more dynamic or stretching (literally and mentally), yoga could be just the thing. If you love gentle movement, go for yoga. It’s very soothing, and it’s always the first activity on my list for helping people to get in touch with themselves; starting to focus and connect with your breath, and your body, can be very powerful. It’s hard to hide when you’re in your mat and in the zone, and that in itself can be really therapeutic. Yoga’s superpower when it comes to mental health benefits is the way it uses breathing. Taking long deep steady breaths is a way of cutting through all those destructive thought loops that can be so hard to get out of. Calming the breath puts the nervous system into its rest and digest mode (the parasympathetic nervous system) and takes it out of the anxious or panicky fight-or-flight response, which is characterised by shallow rapid breathing. Simply by taking long slow out-breaths, which you are guided to do in a yoga class, you can trick your nervous system into feeling that you are not under attack and are safe.  On top of that, yoga puts your body through all planes of movement and helps you see the word from new angles in interesting poses. After a session of yoga, your problem-solving abilities tend to improve and you find a new perspective around whatever was bothering you. It helps you get unstuck both physically and mentally. Not all yoga involves chanting but if your teacher starts the class with an Om or chant, there’s a good mental health reason to join in. Chanting and singing have been shown to tone the vagus nerve, which runs down the back of your throat and is an important regulator of your nervous system. Look out for Hatha, restorative or yin if you want to move at a slower pace (good if your mind normally races) or more active vinyasa flow and ashtanga styles to get your heart rate up (good if you feel sluggish) or if you are Type-A person who likes a sweaty challenge.

 

SWIMMING FOR MENTAL HEALTH

While we can’t currently head to the leisure centre or gym, this is another low-impact, non-weight-bearing option, experience a mental health boost by incorporating just ten minutes of swimming into your daily routine. The most important thing is whether or not you enjoy it; if you hate every second in the water, get out and give something else a go instead. Feeling enthused about the activity you do take part in is as important as the physical benefits you’ll gain. Think about how you are going to feel afterwards and also notice how you are thinking about the exercise beforehand. In other words, when you get your mind right, you get the right actions out of it. 

 

HIIT WORKOUTS FOR MENTAL HEALTH

High-intensity exercise has a reputation for increasing stress levels, owing to a surge in cortisol and adrenaline, but as you become more active you should find that your body adapts to this, learns to cope and becomes more resilient over time, which could support stress coping strategies in daily life… I think everyone has that moment when they walk into class, the music starts, the lights go down, the instructor takes over your thinking for 60 minutes, and you can simply switch off that little voice in your head. Instead of worrying about life’s problems, you concentrate your energy on achieving a target that you’ve set yourself, be it running a little faster or lifting a little heavier. Everyone needs that hour of ‘me’ time, especially in hectic big cities. Taking a bit of mental time out can be one of the main rewards of getting moving and disengaging from the rat race and external pressures is a fundamental skill to develop throughout exercise, like flexing a muscle. At the exercise venue stop thinking or if you must think, make it about why you’re there and what you’re trying to achieve. As soon as that little voice pops up with this excuse, that excuse, or that niggling self-doubt, shut it out.

 

SPIN BIKING AND CYCLING FOR MENTAL HEALTH

There’s nothing quite like free-wheeling down a hill on your bike, feeling the wind in your hair blow the cobwebs (and worries) away. Exercise has been shown to significantly improve so many aspects of mental health; from stress relief to happiness to mental clarity and concentration and memory. It’s been proven to help anxiety and depression. It decreases stress hormones that affect our mood in a negative way and increases our happiness hormones. It helps with motivation, confidence and resilience. It has been shown to delay cognitive decline and dementia in the ageing population. It improves reasoning, problem-solving skills and executive function, etc. How does a spin bike class such as Psycle make you feel positive? As simple as it sounds, the first step to getting everyone focused is to connect them to their breath.   We are prone to holding our breath during times of stress, so if you’re having a particularly stressful day, there’s a pretty good chance that your breathing pattern will be stiff and shallow, which just perpetuates the situation. In order to change your state, it’s so important to get back to your breath, so as the rider that first little bit of breath focus is really important. After that, it’s about concentrating on goals or visualisations. 

 

BOXING

Finding an outlet for aggression can be both empowering and healing. Short, sharp ’rounds’ of punching, followed by rest, results in an intense interval session, which releases endorphins. If you ‘spar’ with another boxer you can achieve ‘flow’, in which you are focussed solely on the task at hand/present moment; a state that everyone from Buddhist monks to Olympic athletes champion.

 

REST FOR MENTAL HEALTH

It is very important to remind yourself of the word ‘balance’. Going from say, being hooked on having a couple of glasses of wine a night to being addicted to putting the hours in at the gym is actually just swapping one form of addiction for another. Exercise as with everything in life should be about moderation. Too much of anything can be damaging, and you have to work out what is right for you.  Ten minutes a day is a great start, and you can work around that to fit your schedule. Balance to me is about four or five times a week, but I do think that moving your body should always be a priority. The times to make exercise a prerogative is when it works for you, not against you. In other words, if you have a crazy week at work, focus on that and don’t berate yourself.

 

5 MENTAL BENEFITS OF EXERCISE

From easing symptoms of depression and anxiety to keeping your memory sharp, there’s no shortage of mental benefits of exercise. Whether you need the motivation to get to the gym or to just take a brisk walk, the five psychological benefits of physical activity below will have you tying up your shoelaces and heading out the door.

  1. Help for depression and anxiety
  2. Decreased stress
  3. Increased self-esteem and self-confidence
  4. Better sleep
  5. Brain boost

From less stress to a boost in self-esteem, exercise is as great for your brain as it is for your body.

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