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After enduring the stresses of COVID-19, I think we can all agree that depression and mental health issues are very real.

 

Once kept a deep, dark secret, struggling with emotions is now being talked about openly, as people realise they’re not alone.  A certain strength emerges when being vulnerable, because it gives others permission to do the same and therefore we can help each other. There’s nothing wrong with having a mental health issue with yourself or someone you love…period!

 

If you have depression, anxiety, PTSD, or any other mental health issue, there’s one thing, if you did it every single day, that would make an extraordinary difference in whatever you’re struggling with.  That thing is exercise.

 

This isn’t airy fairy talk.  It’s backed by plenty of studies and a pioneer in this field is Dr John Ratey, from the American Psychiatric Association. He mandates that people experiencing any type of depressive or mental health issues must exercise every day as part of their treatment plan. The main reason for this is that when you physically move your physiology changes and that in turn changes your brain. 

 

“Exercise appears to be an effective treatment for depression, improving depressive symptoms to a comparable extent as pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. Observational studies suggest that active people are less likely to be depressed, and interventional studies suggest that exercise is beneficial in reducing depression. It appears that even modest levels of exercise are associated with improvements in depression, and while most studies to date have focused on aerobic exercise, several studies also have found evidence that resistance training also may be effective. While the optimal “dose” of exercise is unknown, clearly any exercise is better than no exercise. Getting patients to initiate exercise ---and sustain it – is critical.” James A. Blumenthal, Duke University Medical.

 

What type of exercise is best and for how long?

We are all unique individuals and how your body responds to exercise will be different to other people. Starting with 3 days of high energy exercise (running, dancing, aerobics, swimming, etc) or 5 days of low energy exercise (walking, golf, yoga, pilates, etc) will help you to find your “exercise sweet spot”. 

High energy exercise should be 20-30 minutes and low energy should be 30+ minutes. When beginning any exercise program, it’s important to start gradually and choose a form of exercise you can fit into your life fairly easily and that you enjoy.

 

When will you feel the changes?

Whilst you may feel better after 4 weeks, it’s best to continue for at least 10-12 weeks to achieve the best results. You’ll get addicted to the feeling after you exercise and most importantly, you’ll have created a new habit in your life.

Getting your heart rate up, being outside, breathing deeply, feeling connected, getting out of your house (if restrictions have lifted in your country) and doing that physical push every day, not only moves your body, which changes your mind, it gets you out of your physical environment and creates momentum.

Try to move your body every single day, as though your life depends upon it, because it actually does!  Your brain needs it, your body needs it and your mental health needs it.