Some of us might be going a bit stir crazy with social isolation, but all jokes aside, Mental Health is a serious health concern, and exercise can play a big role in helping to boost our mental health.
Before the pandemic, one in five Australians experienced a mental health illness each year. But the uncertainty and instability around Coronavirus has the potential to exacerbate existing anxiety and depression and contribute to the onset of new mental health problems.
What steps can you take to improve your mental health?
There is research around a few different areas that we can work on to improve our mental health, these being: sleep, nutrition, social connectedness, physical activity/exercise, stress management and avoiding risky substance use.
Why does exercise work so well in improving mental health?
When we exercise, we release around 40 different types of endorphins which are hormones in our body that work on different parts of the brain, having all different effects.
These different endorphins have a role in waking up the brain and getting it going, improving mood, feelings of wellness, motivation and jump-start our attention system, helps to improve how we perceive and regulate our emotions, gain improvements in self-esteem from our hormones, but also because we feel a sense of accomplishment of completing the exercise and if we are exercising in a group, we get social connection and a sense of community.
Exercise also helps regulate the same neurotransmitters that antidepressants target.
And, additionally, mindful exercise may also be helpful in allowing our bodies to regulate our stress hormones, such as cortisol, and reduce inflammation – which is a key predictor of depression and anxiety.
There are so many restrictions on what we can and can’t do at the moment, so what can we do to exercise?
Getting out into the great outdoors and walking, running, bike riding, etc as long as you are by yourself or with only one other person is a great option. However, for people who are wanting to stay at home, we need to be a bit more inventive.
Working from home?
The lines of work and play can get a bit blurred, so make sure you book exercise in to your diary so that you achieve it and get a break from work. You want to ensure that you are taking regular breaks, getting up from your computer and walking around at least every hour, and undertaking some desk stretches to reverse some of the hunching over computer posture.
Exercise at home?
For those that don’t want to leave your property or home to exercise for your mental health, we still need to ensure we accumulate a minimum of 10-minute non-stop chunks of exercise at a time. This could include laps of your verandah, or driveway, dusting off the old exercise bike out the shed, or a circuit of step ups, marching on the spot, shuttle walks or runs, skipping, - basically anything that gets your heart rate up for at least 10 minutes continuously. Then, you need to repeat this sequence another 2 times throughout the day so that you are achieving 30 minutes each day of moderate intensity heart raising exercise.
If you are someone who is not motivated to exercise by yourself, there are many paid and free exercise options available online – whether they be prescribed home programs or group classes. You just need to check the credentials of the person providing the program as there are many people who are not trained in exercise trying to sell exercise programs at the moment. Check out our online programs here
And for social interaction at the very least you could face time or phone a friend whilst you are undertaking your laps of your verandah. Because as we know staying connected is very important for our mental health.
How much should we be undertaking to improve our mental health?
What if exercise is not enough?
If you feel you need additional support for your mental health, you can make an appointment with your GP and tele-health options are available if you do not want to go to the clinic. If you need crisis support then Lifeline telephone counselling is available by phoning 13 11 14.