Author: Helen Jaggar, Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach

According to studies undertaken by the British Heart Foundation and the NHS, over 27% less depression was recorded through the introduction of fitness and nutrition schemes in office environments.

In my experience, exercising or being active is an emotive thing. It brings about different connotations for different people and as such, if we don’t generally do it as part of our lifestyle, it usually takes some sort of ‘trigger’ to make us start and even then, we don’t always continue for the long term.

The Department of Health recommends that adults should aim to be active daily and complete 2.5 hours of moderate intensity activity over a week – the equivalent of 30 minutes, five times a week. It is well documented that physical activity can positively enhance our physical wellbeing, but what if I told you, that it could also make an enormous difference to our mental health?

How so?

It Can Make Us Feel More Content

And who wouldn’t want that? Exercise increases the production of endorphins, which are known to help produce positive feelings and even reduce our perception of pain. It’s been shown to reduce symptoms in people suffering from anxiety by increasing our production of hormones like serotonin, which help relieve feelings of depression and decrease feelings of stress and anxiety. In times of high alert or overworking, we all need an outlet that’s going to promote that feeling of happiness. For this reason alone, many doctors recommend exercise as an effective natural method to help with conditions such as these.

It Can Increase Energy Levels

Ok, in the beginning, we may feel a touch fatigued from exerting ourselves and recovery can take a little longer when we are not used to it but in fact, exercise can actually boost our energy in the long-term. Studies have shown that people undertaking a regular exercise routine for a minimum of six weeks of regular exercise, saw significant rises in energy levels.

It Can Help Prevent Brain Fog and Improve Memory

Research shows that one new case of dementia is detected every four seconds globally and it’s estimated that by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide. Aerobic exercise has been shown to cause the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that plays a key role in loss of memory and the loss of ability to make new or long-term memories, to increase in volume. This promotes changes in our brains’ structure and function and ultimately improves our cognitive ability.

It Can Reduce Pain

How often have we been told by medical professionals, when we’ve hurt ourselves or have some sort of chronic pain, be it a back or knee, fibromyalgia or the like, to rest and be inactive until the pain subsides? In more recent years, studies show that exercise can actually relieve chronic pain and in fact, assist in the recuperation of it quicker. Additionally, physical activity can also raise pain tolerance and decrease pain perception in the brain, by making us more tolerant to certain sensations.

It Can Help With Feeling More Relaxed and Improve Sleep Quality

I don’t know about you but I’m finding that most people I speak to at the moment are either sleeping more than they’ve ever slept or worse than ever.

According to the Sleep Foundation, if we exercise, we cause our temperature to rise but then our internal thermostat drops back to its normal range later in the day and this can trigger feelings of drowsiness, sending us into a more relaxed state and helping to send us off to sleep. Additionally, the energy used up during exercise stimulates a restorative process as we sleep, helping our bodies to recover and stimulate cell renewal, enhancing production of the human growth hormone, which is the hormone responsible for keeping us young – not just aesthetically but also physically.

Gut Health can affect Mental Health

Not strictly physical health but still linked and imperative to overall health, is the importance of the health of our guts. There are now vast studies that show links between the gut and the brain, with evidence that there is distinct communication between the central and the enteric (gut) nervous system and our intestinal functions. Our gut houses trillions of bacteria, so called good or bad, and the presence of the latter has been shown to have a direct correlation with mental health conditions.

Exercise alone is not responsible for weight management, however, good nutrition is paramount for long-term health and adding in exercise also influences our energy expenditure. Our bodies use energy in the following ways:

1. To digest food

2. To exercise or be active.

3. To maintain essential functions in our body like breathing and making our heart beat.

By participating in regular exercise, we can increase our metabolic rate, which in turn, will burn more calories and help us to maintain a healthy weight.

Ultimately, physical activity enhances your wellbeing. Of course, there are differing levels of physical activity and whilst some days you might feel like jumping like a frog, others you may feel more like just having a jolly good stretch. Movement is the key here and it is important that we build up to things.

Here are my top tips for starting to incorporate exercise into your life on a regular basis:

1. Schedule it in. Get yourself organised, put it in the diary and have the necessary equipment ready and available to do it with.

2. Get a great playlist – music or a podcast are great accompaniment and can help to keep you going but moreover distracted.

3. Get an accountability partner – it’s easy to give up or give in when it’s only you are answering to but if you have someone else that you are going to let down if you do, you are likely to think twice before you do.

4. Don’t expect perfection, instead enjoy progress. You wouldn’t expect to know how to drive, play the piano or learn a language without practice and consistency, so why do you expect to be at the top of your fitness game from the start.

5. Start simple and grow from there. We’ve all heard the phrase, don’t run before you can walk. The same applies here. Get the basics under your wing before you ramp it up.

6. Be disciplined. You wouldn’t let your child give up school after their first day if they found it daunting, so why should you be able to give up exercise because you found it hard. Of course, it’s hard but it will get easier.

7. Don’t go crazy. This is a long-term inclusion to your lifestyle, so remember to only do the amount you think you can continue with for the foreseeable. 6 days a week, an hour at a time may not feel so achievable in 3 months’ time.

8. Keep going. Nobody ever regretted the workout they didn’t do. If you stop, you’ll be kicking yourself but if you continue, just think what you could achieve. Small steps make for big changes.