Exercise to help mental health

The links between fitness and improving mental health.

Over the last few years, the number of individuals attending gyms and classes has increased enormously. There are a large number of reasons for this, but more than a third of adults in the UK (38%), said they’d turned to exercise to help improve their mood and relieve stress.

It may not be surprising to hear that winter can have a huge effect on your fitness and mental health.

A great way to reduce stress, reduce anxiety and improve your mental health, below, we take a look at how turning to exercise during the winter months can help you, alongside some helpful winter exercise hints and tips.

Winter and mental health

We all know that winter, particularly the festive month of December, is often filled with excessive eating and drinking. This isn’t surprising given that the drop in temperature and shorter daylight hours lead to people spending more time cooped up indoors.

However, when you couple this extra food and drink with an average eight-minute reduction in exercise, the tendency to drop activities such as running, housework or active travelling, alongside an increase in sleeping, it can have a huge effect on mental health.

In the UK alone, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression or winter blues, which can affect your mood, sleep, appetite, and energy levels, impacts around two million people.

Couple this with the added stress of COVID-19 and varying lockdown levels across the country, and it’s understandable that you may be feeling a little down.

However, you aren’t alone in this, and when it comes to exercise and mental health, the two go hand in hand for the better.

Exercise and mental health – the link

The benefits of exercise and mental health are often talked about. Even a short 10-minute walk can help to enhance mental wellbeing.

Meanwhile, the NHS says that adults should undertake at least 150-minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week to stay healthy. This can help you to work towards a healthy body and a healthy mind, working to reduce stress and reduce anxiety.

It’s also been reported that the risk of major depression can be reduced by as much as 26% through up to 15-minutes of running or walking for one hour a day.

Regular exercise can also help you:

  • Improve your sleep
  • Increase your energy levels
  • Create a stronger resilience
  • Sharpen your memory and thinking

However, winter can be a completely different beast when it comes to exercise and mental health. Below, we’ve highlighted several exercises perfect for this time of year, alongside some helpful tips on how to maintain an exercise routine during winter.

Exercise - hints and tips

As we’ve pointed out, to improve your mental health through exercise you don’t have to embark on a 10K run. However, there are certain exercises you can try that’ll give you a lift in more ways than one.

  1. Walking – the easiest and most accessible form of exercise, it’s low intensity, encourages positive thoughts, and it can be enjoyed with your family or with some music or a podcast.
  2. Yoga – while it may seem obvious, this can help you to stretch, exercise, focus on your breathing and yourself. There’s a reason it’s often promoted as a mental health super exercise.
  3. Swimming – low impact and non-weight bearing, swimming can help to boost mental health after only 10-minutes. It also works various muscles in the body for a fun workout.
  4. Hiit – high-intensity, these sessions can seriously help to reduce stress levels due to the surge in cortisol and adrenaline.

If you already exercise, and you’re finding it hard to stick to a routine, there are ways you can change things up to make exercise more inviting during winter. These include:

  1. Adapt your routine – try something new that you’ve been meaning to, after all, doing the same exercises day in and day out could get a little boring
  2. Change times – if you go early in the morning when it’s still dark, try moving it to a time when it’s a bit lighter, as this may persuade you to get out of bed and hit the road running.
  3. Shorten your workouts – the length of time spent exercising at this time of year may seem daunting. However, if you shorten the time, it’ll mean the exercise seems less of an effort and will encourage you not to ‘give it a miss’.
  4. Stay at home – from YouTube workouts to exercise DVDs, try working out at home if you’re finding the cold of the outdoors a little off-putting.

If you’re a personal trainer or fitness instructor looking to help your clients stay active during winter, or you simply want to promote positive mental health and wellbeing 365-days a year, take a look at our Mental health Awareness course and see how we can help.