MHAW2016 - How to exercise your way to better mental health



So how does exercise link in with mental health? According to the NHS, you are up to 30% less likely to experience depression if you regularly exercise and considering 1 in 10 of us will experience depression, it really does seem worthwhile to give exercise a chance. This doesn’t only apply to depression, but anxiety, stress and other forms of mental illness as well. Exercise is one of the best treatments and most effective methods to reducing mental health illness –it’s not all about the bulging muscles or running marathons.

Why does this work though? Simply put, exercise works as a brilliant distraction for your mind! Yes, our brains may be one of the most fascinating things on the planet, but a simple bout of jogging and jumping around is enough to take away the focus on how you feel and make you feel better.

For the science lovers out there (yes I know some of you secretly are!), the reason behind this change has been linked with levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters allowing your brain to communicate important information. Higher levels of serotonin are not only linked to your mood, but they also affect your appetite, sex drive and even your sleep – all of which play a big part in your mental health.

Types of activity

Exercise can be daunting, but the best advice I can give you is to trial and error different things. There are many different types of activity you can engage in, some more traditional like running and some newer forms such as HIIT.


You know what’s best about these exercises? They are so diverse and dynamic because you’re outdoors, instead of being holed up in a gym or at home. Running/cycling is a moderate intensity form of exercise and suited to most people and is also proven to improve mental health. Exercising outdoors is perfect for customising as it can be performed alone or with the company of friends or a running club so you can socialise on these trips (this is a brilliant way of tracking your intensity, being able to maintain conversation). Just make sure you dress for the right weather! Enjoy the fact you’re in control, you dictate the pace, where and when you go and how long for.

Contact sports

This is a perfect fit for those who have an abundance of energy or deals with high levels of stress. Physical expression through contact sports in a controlled environment is an excellent way of dispersing built up stresses and anxieties, or even for those who tend to struggle with their anger/frustrations. From boxing, to more advanced forms such as kickboxing, karate, martial arts or even fitness based classes, there’s an endless choice and adaptions of various sports to suit all fitness levels. Trust me, you’ll be so focused on coordinating your hands and feet that you’ll not be focusing on any of your troubles, what better way?!


HIIT is a fairly new form of exercise to most people and it’s one of my personal favourites. Many of us struggle with our time management which is stressful in itself, so spending hours exercising would only make your stress levels worse, which of course, is what we are trying to avoid. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) targets this problem head on as you can be in and out within 30 minutes! Gone are the horrors of having to spend hours in the gym. Unlike other types of exercise, this one will have you sweating more and breathing harder as you have to work to near maximal intensity, but even though this sounds awful, trust me the result is a feeling like no other. Knowing at the end of the session you feel the benefits long after your workout is so worth it. This is perfect for those who love goal setting and challenging yourself each and every time you exercise and get that all time high afterwards. The only thing you’ll have on your mind is getting through each interval and then putting your feet up afterwards – you’ll need it!

Our body is one amazing organ and if you treat it right, everything will run as smoothly as it’s supposed to. So if we improve our physical health, our mental health will simultaneously improve and allow us to cope far better with day to day life. It’s a chain reaction that leads to the feelings of euphoria created by those brilliant hormones after we exercise. My top tip to anyone reading this is to experiment and persist. Everyone was a beginner at some point, even if they won’t admit it. Don’t expect to be a pro from the start – give yourself time to work at it and before you know it you’ll notice a big change in yourself!

If you’re at a loss as to where to start, a simple conversation with a personal trainer or running club will ease those nerves as education is the best way to comfort you with something new.

What are you waiting for? Go and grab your trainers!

Kallum Dray lives in Liverpool with Liberty Living. He is studying Sport and Exercise Science and is in his first year at Liverpool John Moores University.


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