Get the most mental health benefits from exercise

Get the most mental health benefits from exercise

By Charlotte Fantelli
We all know that taking any regular physical exercise can have many health benefit’s both for body and for the mind, but there are things we can do to maximise these internal benefits.

Do something you enjoy

OK, so this sounds so very simple, but we can often view exercise as a chore, we read about these celebrities doing 100 crunches before breakfast and running three miles at 6am just to keep in shape. IT DOESN’T have to be like this! There are so many ways to get in shape and to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Planning to start or increase an activity can be a real commitment and with our hectic lives this can be daunting and can often find itself at the bottom of our ‘to do’ list, even though we know all the ‘benefits’ however if we start something we enjoy, it is far easier to stick to, conversely if we start something purely because it is ‘healthy or because we feel we must’ then we can be put off the idea of getting fitter all together and this can sap our enthusiasm to try something else. 
A mistake a lot of people make is to assume that getting fit or staying fit has to mean five nights a week in the gym, yes this suits some but it doesn’t appeal to most and in fact is rather off putting to those who do not know whare to start. Everyone will enjoy something different, and athough it is a great place to get fit, let’s not confine our thinking to the gym, but look at what would suit us, our time and our lifestyles. 
Salsa dancing, kick boxing, walking, cycling, a fitness DVD at home, the Wii... Anything that gets your muscles working and your heart rate up is a  place to start. The endorphins that are released are really quite addictive and we find that the more we do the more we want to do, the less we do, unfortunately the less we want to do it. So like anything the best time to start is now!

Added Mind benefits

Doing something you enjoy will:
• Improve your chances of sticking to an activity
• Be a source of relaxation
• Be a time for time-out and personal fulfilment rather than a chore

Start at your level

It sounds like a cliche, but the best way to approach a  new fitness regime is to start slow and steady. This does not mean don’t get stuck in, or give 100% it simply means start on the level you are at now, don’t be afraid to know your limitations, for, if you meet an activity at your level, those limits will not be limits for very long, they will expand and improve as you do.
It can be very tempting to jump into a new activity head first - for example I like to consider myself an expert in everything, I know what I can’t do (for example sing) but I like to think of myself as good at those things that I do do, so (after watching a silly programme on how Cheryl Cole learned street dance for Will I Am’s video) I thought ‘I can do that! How hard is it to street dance?!’ So instead of going out and buying a > street dance video for beginners, I dive straight in and buy an advanced DVD teaching the coreography of ‘Step it Up’ or some dance movie like that...
You can see where this is going I am sure! Turns out street dance is not as easy as it looks... (dispite my medals in gymnastics when I was a youngster, and my offer of a place at a dance agency) I was rubbish! Now if I had been sensible and purchases the said ‘beginners DVD’ I would probably by now be dancing along to ‘Step it Up’! but as it turned out the DVD is sat in a sad lonely spot in the back of the cupboard gathering dust and I am certainly no closer to dancing for WillIam!’.
It is very tempting to want instant end results, but how often do we fail because we don’t give ourselves chance to climb the ladder of success, instead we get disheartened by the slow and steady progress, but I can guarantee champion athletes did not wake up one morning with the ability to do what they do, instead they started at the level they were at and progressed until they are where they want to be. We are all beginners at something and what a great place to be, it gives us the scope to learn and to grow.
Perhaps I will treat myself to that beginners DVD?

Added Mind benefits

• Improve your chances of sticking to an activity
• Give you achievable goals and personalised results
• Build confidence in your own abilities
• Avoid disappointment - by growing in ability rather than over challenging yourself

Outdoor exercise

Taking your exercise outside, can also improve the mental health benefits of exercise.
Dr Jo Barton, a sport scientist and colleague Jules Pretty, found when they studied more than 1,200 people's reactions to outdoor or 'green' exercise. Their findings published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, found that there was a significant increase in people’s self-esteem and mood. 
However good a gym, the power of the natural world to relax and calm us is unbeatable.
Dr Barton states that this is particularly true when exercise is taken in the wilderness or near water.
There is now call for doctors to prescribe ‘green exercise’ for patients suffering from a range of mental health issues.
As we published in issue one of Uncovered magazine, the most interesting part of the above mentioned study is that they found just 5 minutes of this outdoor exercise can have dramatic effects on mood and self-esteem. The study conducted for the University of Essex showed that, as well as protecting against future health threats, outdoor exercise could even increase life expectancy.
There is no doubt that fresh air and a good dose of the natural world is simply a great tonic for many ills. 
There are a miriad of activities that can be done outdoors and each carry their own health benefits, but some ‘outdoor pursuits’ you may want to try include:
• Cycling, skiing, horseriding, running, jogging, brisk walking.
• Watersports
• Team sports such as football, hockey, criket, and volleyball
• Racket sports, tennis, badminton 
• Martial arts, yoga

Added Mind benefits

Taking your regular exercise outdoors can give you:
• An instant mood boost
• Improved self esteem
• Clearer more ordered thinking
• Added feel good factor

Team sport

Taking part in team sports or any ‘social exercise’ can have many benefits. Being part of a team can increase our staying power when it comes to exercise. We are more likely to push ourselves and commit to regular activity if others are relying on us.
We also boost our own social network and skills. Our self esteem is boosted if we feel like a valued member of something bigger than ourselves.
It’s not just ‘team sports’ that can be enjoyed as part of a group, clubs (Dancing, aerobics, pilates and so many more) are a great way to meet people and get fit. 
If you are a full time parent, why not get together a few friends and create a buggy walking club? I started doing this after the birth of my son. When he was just four weeks old I set about getting a bit slimmer and fitter. I went with a mum I met in ante natal group (Wendy) and soon there was about four of us on a regular basis. At first I became so physically tired on our walks (Wendy is a little like the female version of Rambo!) but after I was encouraged to walk 3-4 miles a time, my fitness levels dramatically improved very quickly. There was a hill on the way home that I had to stop on at first, after a month or two, I could chat the whole way up hardly out of breath. It’s amazing how much faster you walk when you are pushing a buggy and chatting to a friend.

Added Mind benefits

Being part of a team when taking your physical activity can improve:
• Performance - being encouraged can work wonders for your stamina
• Social network
• Social support
• Confidence
• Self esteem
• Improve your chances of sticking to something if you feel a valued part of a team.

Keep hydrated

Whilst exercising we need to ensure we are adequately hydrated. This is very important for your alround health. It is impossible to give an accurate amount of water we need to replace during our work out, as it will depend very much on the activity, the duration, the individual person and the amount we sweat.
Your urine is a good indication of how hydrated you are, if you are passing light yellow - clear fluid regularly it is good to assume you are properly hydrated, if however yor urine is dark, concentrated and more odourous, it can be assumed we need to increase our water intake.
We also lose electrolytes when we exercise and these can be replaced by drinking many sports drinks, however it is unlikely during a normal workout that this will be necessary - this form of hydration is normally only advised if you are maintaining a high level of activity for many hours (such as a marathon or tryathlon) as during a normal session your body will have more than enough to fulfil this need. 
From a point of view of the mind it is incredibly important to keep hydrated as dehydration can create many physical symptoms akin to panic attacks which can exacerbate many mental health issues. 

Added Mind benefits

Keeping hydrated:
• Improves concentration
• Improves performance and stamina
• Helps stave off feelings akin to panic attacks such as dizziness, faintness and fatigue.

Listen to music

Listening to music can really boost your workout and also boost your mood. Music can influence the way we feel, it can help relax and destress us, or uplift and motivate us.
Music with powerful drum beats for example can be very good for motivation and setting a pace and rythum for exercise, whereas more easy listening or classical tunes can be very good for calming us during stretches, yoga or pilates type exercise.
Dr. C. I. Karageorghis, Ph.D. of the United States Sport Academy revealed through a series of studies, that listening to music when competing could
• Divert the fatigue factor
• Could be stimulating or calming, used as a pre-performance psych up strategy
• The music sound can affect mood and motivation
• Specific music and music tempos work best dependent on the activity
He concluded that music is definitely an “often untapped source of both motivation and inspiration for sport and exercise participants.”

Measure the results

It is so easy to take forgranted small changes that happen gradually, whereas if we can see measured results we can be encouraged to do more.
As David Morell pointed out so beautifully in issue two; many benefits of exercise are internal and can not simply show on a tape measure, however these benefits are not in anyway less real. 
We suggest keeping an exercise diary to chart the positive changes.

Added Mind benefits

• Seeing tangible results
• Confidence to continue

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