Promote your mental health by exercising

Today, September 14, marks the promotion of positive mental health across Australia, and Australians are being encouraged to reconnect through physical activity and ask each other “R U OK?”

“Socialising through the efforts of exercise can have significant benefits to those living with a mental health condition,” Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) chief executive officer Anita Hobson-Powell said.

“Exercise is proven to be effective as a part of treatment for mental illnesses. Exercising with someone and starting those conversations of “R U OK?” can help manage someone’s mental health and keep them on track with treatment, or at least check in to let them know they have support available.”

With research showing us that being physically active is associated with lower suicidal ideations, exercise has a clear role in maintaining and promoting the physical and mental well-being of Australians in order to help prevent and manage chronic conditions and illnesses, such as poor mental health.

“With 1 in 5 Australians experiencing a mental illness each year, we all should be taking responsibility to regularly connect and support others. Asking how someone is doing and engaging in meaningful conversations during exercise is an opportune time to do this, as it can be less confronting than sitting opposite someone,” says Ms Hobson-Powell.

Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines indicate that accumulating 150 to 300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate intensity exercise each week will greatly benefit your physical and mental health.

Higher doses of exercise may be more effective at improving mental illness but people may be less likely to stick to them. As such, start slowly and build up gradually.

For example, if you have not been exercising at all, start with a 10-15 minute walk each morning, and gradually increase this to 30 minutes per day.

Accredited exercise physiologist, Beth Sheehan, explains that being socially connected with a friend or co-worker is a great way to engage in exercise, and in turn, reconnect and chat about each other’s mental well-being.

“It’s recommended that you try a variety of different types of activities and choose one that you enjoy the most. By incorporating the social element it can take the pressure off the ideology of exercising for your health, and more about enjoying your time together,” Beth said.

“Finding your connection or ‘hook’ with exercise is important.”

Top five tips to exercise right for your mental health:

1. Creating an exercise habit can be difficult, but finding one you enjoy can make it easier to come back to, and more likely that you’ll stick to your program. Remember to set short-term realistic goals for exercising each week for extra encouragement.

2. The secret is that you don’t have to join a gym! Activities such as swimming, walking the dog, jogging whilst listening to music, riding a bike, gardening, bushwalking, yoga and weight-lifting can all be beneficial for your mental health.

3. Social interaction whilst exercising has been shown to improve mental health, and joining your local Oztag or netball team will allow you to enjoy exercise whilst being in a communal, interactive environment.

4. Try exercising outdoors. A research team found that outdoor exercise was associated with increased energy and revitalisation, as well as decreased confusion, anger, depression and tension, when compared with exercising indoors.

5. The best time to exercise depends on when you have the most energy and motivation. Once you find a time that works for you – stick to it. Studies show that once your body adjusts to exercising at a specific time each day, it will start to perform better at that time than any other time of the day.