The other day I watched an interesting TED talk given by The Food Medic, Hazel Wallace. In her talk she tells the audience that she has found a magic medicine. A medicine that can reduce the risk of suffering from depression, type 2 diabetes, cancer and dementia. Not only that but it can also help you live longer and make you smarter. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Almost too good to be true? Well, it does exist and it is free and years of scientific research proves that this medicine works. However, it’s not as simple as taking it in a pill because life is never as simple as that. That magic medicine is exercise.
How exercise helps me
I have long believed that exercise helps me with my mental health. I can’t ignore the fact that my anxiety rises when I’m not working out. That constant unsettled feeling dominates my thoughts when I’m not exercising. Yet, I sit on that settee, or I spend the day working, pushing exercise down the list of my priorities, when really it should be at the top of my list. Why do I do this?
Bryony Gordon has touched upon it. It’s that thought of seeing exercise as another form of self-loathing. When you are exercising for the wrong reasons. I’m not exercising because I want to feel mentally stronger, I am exercising because I want to lose weight. Then when I don’t lose the weight I feel like I’m failing and I give up again.
Changing my mindset
I’m approaching exercise with the completely wrong mindset. There is no other medicine that can reduce the risks of so many diseases like exercise can. Exercise shouldn’t be about vanity, it should be about looking after our physical and mental health. I know that exercise changes how I feel. I know that exercise helps still the ever turning wheel of thoughts in my head. It gives me that sense of control. Also, exercise is a reminder to myself that I need to put myself first sometimes. That I do need to look after myself. It helps when I am feeling frustrated and fed up. The work that sometimes seems impossible, that article I can’t write, suddenly it feels achievable after half-an-hour’s exercise.
Moving our body is key. Moving our body helps us clear our brain. It helps us focus. Exercise can really transform our mental health. Yet, I still find it hard to dig out the motivation. But I need to approach it differently. As Hazel says in her talk, how many people go to an exercise class or for a run and regret it? It might not be easy but you always get that post-exercise glow, when the endorphins are rushing around your body and you are having a Rocky moment, believing that you can take on the world.
Why we should exercise
When I don’t want to lace up those trainers I need to remind myself of how good I will feel post-exercise. It’s that natural high we get from exercise and, as Hazel shares, exercise is training our brain to be happier, smarter and healthier. There have been studies undertaken that back this up. Exercise really does make us happier. The studies have shown that 1) exercise does reduce the risk of depression and 2) the same study revealed that just one hour of exercise a week could prevent future cases of depression in 12% of people. Just imagine how much that stat would improve if we exercised for more than 1 hour a week.
I’ve mentioned how exercise will often help me finish my work and that’s no coincidence. That’s a direct result because exercise helps you improve your ability to maintain intention, to multitask and to learn – exercise gives you “immediate brain-boosting effects”.
Exercise can also future-proof our brain. It trains our brain in the same way as our muscles and this means we are less likely to suffer from diseases that can affect our brain.
Exercise is that magic medicine but it takes effort. We can’t just sit down on the settee and take a pill. So how much exercise should we be doing a day? Hazel states that as a rule of thumb we should be aiming for 30 minutes a day and that can be anything: going for a walk on your lunch break, doing yoga, dancing, going for a swim. It’s about finding some form of exercise that you can fit into your day and that you enjoy. Plus, you don’t have to do the 30 minutes all at once, you could break it down into ten minute segments throughout your day.
I’ve been looking at exercise all wrong. It’s just 30 minutes a day but that those 30 minutes have the ability to change my life for the better. I need to stop making excuses and start embracing those 30 minutes.
I hold the key to improving my mental health and I need to start using it.