Does exercise help your mental health? Collating your responses part 1!

Hi everybody- Maddy here, the digital media intern for Mind Waves. Earlier this week I posted some Instagram stories and polls asking Mind Waves’ followers to share their feelings on the relationship between mental health and exercise.

First of all, I posted a poll with the question ‘Does exercise help your mental health?’ with the options ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

There were 32 responses and every single one of you voted yes!

This is a unanimous result, but I wanted to look deeper into the link between mental health and exercise, and hear some of your real life experiences. I asked you to respond to the posted story and get specific about your own experiences.

There were several responses that sung the praises of various exercises; strength training, running and swimming all came up multiple times. One response said that swimming made them feel better every single day by helping them relax and spend time away from screens.

However, the most common exercise among Mind Waves’ followers was walking. One follower said “going on walks in the evening helps me – just getting out of the house and being in nature.” Another wrote “Walking outdoors has helped me focus, relax and let go of what I can’t control.”

This all seems pretty positive, right? Not completely. A theme made itself clear to me as I read and sorted through the responses. Although it was universally agreed that exercise had a positive influence on mental health, a recurring theme of guilt and self-blame regarding exercise became apparent.

A few responses mentioned the fact that poor mental health can make it difficult to maintain an exercise routine. One reply states “When my MH is bad it’s incredibly difficult to get myself to do anything” and another wrote “the thought of exercising makes me feel so bad because I’m lazy”. This indicates a vicious cycle that I think many mentally ill readers will recognise. I’m sure most of the people reading this, myself included, have been on the receiving end of many ‘tips and tricks’ to improve their mental health. Exercise, fresh air, yoga and a healthy diet are just a few of the things that have been suggested to me as a way to help my mental health.

The problem with this is that mental health problems can be severe and enduring; they can fill you with self-doubt and lack of motivation. Although it is clear that exercise improves an individuals mental health (official NHS guidance agrees with this statement), it is also worth remembering that the symptoms of poor mental health can make sustaining any kind of routine difficult. I believe that any kind of exercise, be it running, dancing or carrying your shopping home, is beneficial to your body and your mind. And on the days where exercising seems insurmountable, surviving is enough. The only exercise that doesn’t help change anything is beating yourself up!

Thank you to everyone that responded to the Instagram stories, you basically wrote this post for me! Let me know if you would be interested in more blogs like this.

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