Column: Keeping fit is good for your mental health

Dan Donohue
Dan Donohue
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Fitness columnist Dan Donohue writes about how physical activity can help you feel better

Over the last couple of years, we have seen a huge shift by some well-established charities bringing the story of mental health illness into the spotlight.

Charities that once

focused on highlighting the effects, treatments and the impact of cancer in males such as Movember have gravitated towards the serious nature of mental health related illnesses and how we can help to positively change something that has become so prevalent in modern society.

The Mental Health Foundation recently released statistics stating that four per cent to 10 per cent of Britons will experience depression in their lifetime. Based on current population statistics, this could be as high as 6.7 million people experiencing the terrible effects of depression during their life.

Recently the spotlight was shone even brighter, with World Mental Health Day raising awareness of some of the things that we can do to alter those statistics and, in this week’s column, we will pick up the baton and look at some of the ways that fitness can do help your mental health.

The biggest factor in relation to physical activity is finding something you enjoy doing. In its most basic form, exercise is simply movement that engages muscles and, in turn, burns calories. It can be something as basic as walking and as varied as CrossFit.

The major point is making sure you enjoy what you do. We all know the benefits of regular exercise, but we need to shake the stigma of ‘we have to exercise’, ‘I must exercise’ or ‘I should exercise’ and switch it around into something that is a pleasure rather than a chore. Find something you love, that makes you smile, that makes you happy and stick to it.

Any form of physical activity can have a multitude of benefits for us. It helps to lower stress. Stress can come from anywhere, our home, our family, our work, our lifestyle. Stress can cause a loss of appetite, leaving us lethargic with zero energy, it can impact our sleep patterns and it can leave us feeling irritated by the smallest of things resulting in us taking out our frustrations on others.

Research has proven that those who exercise regularly have lower rates of stress compared to those that don’t regularly exercise. Exercise is used an alternate treatment for depression. It’s been shown to lower anxiety in individuals, both with those suffering from mild anxiety or those suffering with clinical anxiety.

As someone who has a passion for group exercise, I’ve seen the effects of surrounding yourself with others and how that can positively impact one’s mental health. Surrounding yourself with others who want to see you succeed is a huge influencer on finding happiness in relation to physical activity.

However you do it, start slow and build accordingly. Establish small, manageable goals as these will allow you to measure your progress and allow youth focus on one thing at a time, in turn helping to lower stress levels, anxiety and doubt.

Change can be daunting. Find something that makes you happy and keep going.