Movement is Medicine for Your Mental Health

Carolyn Barber of Portsmouth’s Good Mental Health Cooperative, and local researcher and social entrepreneur, reports on the benefits of exercise and movement for mental health.

‘Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional and mental states.’ Carol Welch.

The benefits of exercise for our mental as well as physical wellbeing are well documented. ‘Prescribing exercise’ was officially recommended for the treatment of depression and anxiety ten years ago by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence.

This can be easier said than done! We tend to think of exercise as jogging, sports, going to the gym, long walks, and if you’re feeling stressed, depressed or anxious, the idea of exercise can feel overwhelming. So it might feel easier to think about ‘movement’ rather than ‘exercise’, and to look at building an achievable routine rather than setting big goals.

As we approach autumn and winter, further restrictions are being imposed along with warnings of further lockdowns if Covid-19 cases continue to grow. Our opportunities for gentle outdoor exercise are normally reduced due to the cold and wet weather, and now many people will also be self-isolating and shielding themselves.

Mind, the national mental health charity, have produced a useful list of suggested activities to get moving on a regular basis, including these ideas for when you’re at home:

  • ‘Try to sit less – if you spend lots of time sitting down, try to get up and move around a bit every hour. If you’re worried you might forget, you could set an alarm to remind yourself.
  • ‘Chair-based exercises – if you have mobility problems, a physical condition, or find it difficult spending time out of a chair, the NHS website has activity routines you can try while sitting down.
  • ‘Play an active computer game – there are a few different gaming consoles you could try which involve actively moving your body while playing computer games.
  • ‘Do exercises or stretches at home – the NHS website has lots of different routines, or you could try an exercise CD or DVD.
  • ‘Do an online activity programme – there are lots of free, online exercise regimes designed for you to try at home, including everything from chair-based exercises to yoga and cardio workouts.
  • ‘Do active household chores, like hoovering, tidying or DIY.
  • ‘Include more activity in your day-to-day routine – run up the stairs instead of walking, carry your bags of shopping in one at a time or do some gentle stretching while you’re watching TV.
  • ‘Dance – put on some music while you’re cooking and dance around your kitchen, or have a mini dance party with your friends or family.’

The website also provides information on exercising outside, how to get motivated, and on disability, mental health and inclusive activities.

On a local level, there are plenty of opportunities to get moving and participate in a range of activities throughout October in the online Festival Connections in Creativity, organised by Sarah Haskett of Creative Mental Health to showcase creative talent and raise funds for the Good Mental Health Cooperative.

In the Resources section of the Good Mental Health Coop website, there are also a wide range of resources you can use to build your mental and emotional resilience during these testing times. The Resources are divided under 4 themes – Meet, Relax, Learn, Create – please take some time to browse and check them out. You can also find information about local support and services available if you’re feeling emotionally or psychologically distressed.

This article was originally published as a newsletter. Check out the Good Mental Health Coop website, where you can sign up to receive Carolyn’s weekly mental health updates by email, and find out more about the amazing work the Coop do. You can also follow the Coop on Twitter and Facebook, and you can read all of Carolyn’s articles for S&C here.

Image by Hatice EROL from Pixabay.

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