We’re often told than exercise is hugely beneficial for our mental health and well-being, but why is this the case? F45 Trainer, Holly Balan, explains why exercise not only keeps you physically fit but mentally fit too…

Engaging in exercise to look after our bodies is amazing, but we should not neglect what is arguably the most important organ in the body – the brain.

What is mental health?

Firstly, it’s important to highlight that everybody ‘has’ mental health and the importance of exercising for mental health extends to everybody, not just to those with a diagnosed mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.

Put simply, mental health refers to our emotional and psychological wellbeing and can influence our self-esteem, as well as how we think, feel, act, cope with life’s stresses, and engage with our loved ones.

Mental health and wellbeing can be impacted at any stage of life (due to stress, grief, physical health concerns, hormones) and should therefore be prioritised at all ages alongside our physical health.

Why is exercise beneficial for mental health and wellbeing?

Exercise and physical activity can have an enormously positive impact on our mental health – think ‘strong body, strong mind’. Countless studies have highlighted the improvements that exercise, and physical activity has upon mental health, with positive effects including:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved cognitive functioning (including a reduction in risk of developing dementia)
  • Reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and negative moods
  • Increased ability to manage stress
  • Increased mental alertness and energy levels

How to look after your mental health with exercise:

Incorporate exercise into your daily life: keep it simple! You could start by meeting a friend for a 30-minute walk, doing some gardening, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, getting off the bus a few stops early, or even just giving the house a good clean!

These activities can be referred to as NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) which essentially refers to non-structured exercise physical activity. Improving your ‘NEAT’ is a great way to supplement a more ‘formal’ exercise schedule, and will help to increase your physical activity, as well as providing a sense of achievement – it’s a win-win!

Here are Holly’s top tips for reaping the mental health benefits of exercise…

Find your motivation

Set aside some time to really check in with yourself and think about what your goals and motivations are. Once you identify your motivations and needs, you can set yourself manageable goals each week to make sure that you incorporate exercise into your schedule and prioritise your mental wellbeing. Mental health can impact your motivation, so it can be helpful to set your commitments and intentions for the week ahead, to keep you on track and focused on your goals.

Identify any barriers

Explore the reasons that may prevent you from exercising and find solutions! If self-esteem or body image is holding you back from swimming, try a women-only swim session! If money is tight, try walking or jogging outside. If you’re unsure where to start or how to exercise safely, seek support from a professional such as a Personal Trainer. If your mood and motivation tend to decrease towards the end of the day, factor in some time to exercise in the morning and start the day feeling physically and mentally strong. Everyone is different, so it’s important to recognise your barriers and limitations.

Find a form of exercise that you truly enjoy

Exercise can be a daunting prospect, especially if you are unsure where to start, but it can also be an empowering and enjoyable lifestyle choice. Group exercise can be a great way to meet new people and expand your social life too, which further promotes healthy mental wellbeing.

Fitness classes such as F45 offer amazing 45-minute classes, which focus on improving your functional movement patterns (which is extremely important later in life) in a team training environment. There’s a great sense of community and positivity within each class, which is sure to leave you feeling great afterwards. There’s even two Personal Trainers in each class to reduce exercise anxiety and injury risk, and there’s no mirrors in the studios so no ego’s in sight!

Chase those ‘feel good’ chemicals

Exercise triggers the release of many different chemicals within the brain, including endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals, particularly endorphins, are often referred to as ‘feel-good’ chemicals as they help to regulate and boost your mood, improve your sleep quality, reduce stress and relieve pain. If you are feeling stressed or experiencing low mood, it can sometimes be challenging to motivate yourself to engage in exercise; however, even a simple 30-minute walk can have enormous benefits and your body, and mind, will thank you!