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You already know how good exercise is for your physical health. But you might be surprised by how good exercise is for your mental health. Studies show that for treating mild-moderate depression, exercise can be as effective as talking therapy and medication.
There are many ways that exercise positively influences your mental health:
- Promotes the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain, like endorphins and serotonin.
- It helps you sleep better so you rest fully at night and feel more energised during the day.
- Gives you a sense of accomplishment as your fitness improves and you start achieving your goals.
- Exercise is usually a shared activity with others so you get the added benefits of social connection.
To reap these benefits, it’s generally recommended you do 30 minutes of ‘vigorous’ exercise at least five times a week. Vigorous just means you’re putting in enough effort that it’s hard to have a conversation while you’re exercising.
Don’t get disheartened if these guidelines feel unachievable. It’s important to remember that while more exercise is better than less – any exercise is better than no exercise.
Of course, the hardest part is getting started. Especially if you’re experiencing a mental health condition like depression, where the idea of just getting out of bed can seem hard enough. Exercise can play a major part in and should be in your treatment or management plan.
If you’re waiting for motivation to arrive at your doorstep before you start exercising, you might be waiting a long time. The secret truth of motivation is that it actually comes after you take action – not before. By starting small and experiencing some benefits, you give motivation a chance to turn up and it loves riding on the momentum you’re building.
If you’re feeling stuck, here are six tips for starting an exercise routine from scratch.
- Find your reason – you’re more likely to stick with a new behaviour if it’s linked to something you really value in life. Ask yourself, “why will exercise make my life better in a meaningful way?” It might be to help you overcome depression and get your life back on track, to gain more energy for your kids or to improve your general health for a longer life.
- Start small – and we mean really small. Just add five per cent to what you’re currently doing. If you’re stuck on the couch, just walking in your street each day is a great start.
- Make it part of your routine – the more decisions you have to make about when to exercise, the closer you’ll come to deciding not to. Timetable your exercise into your weekly schedule so you aren’t relying as much on willpower.
- Do something you enjoy – exercise doesn’t have to be serious. If you hate running or going to the gym, you’re unlikely to keep it up. Find an activity you enjoy (or at least don’t dislike) and you’re more likely to keep doing it.
- Set goals and monitor progress – it’s very rewarding to track your progress towards a specific goal. It makes every exercise session feel purposeful.
- Make a commitment to others – you’re less likely to opt out if you have a friend or team relying on you to be there.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself if you haven’t exercised for a while. For many, this can trigger self-critical thoughts that lead to giving up the exercise routine entirely.
Treat each day as a fresh start, and remind yourself that it’s human to drop the ball occasionally.