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Exercise yourself happy

Reviewed by our expert panel
Exercise yourself happy

Fitness expert Sarah Cowley explains the mental health benefits of being active.

I know I’m a calmer person after I’ve exercised. When I’m feeling under the pump, being active becomes more about my mental health than physical fitness. There are times when I simply need to exercise to bring up my mood and energy.

There is a large volume of research to support not only the tremendous physical benefits that exercise can bring, but also the positive association between exercise and mental health. Regular exercise has been shown to relieve stress, help you sleep better and boost overall mood, which all contribute to an improved mental state.

Physiologically, when we put our bodies under physical stress, endorphins are released which help alleviate stress and pain. These neurotransmitters alter our brain chemistry to improve our mood. Other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are released during and after exercise and have been described as the ‘happy hormones’, helping to provide a more upbeat state. These chemicals all play a role in regulating our mood, and exercise is a way to naturally allow these to flow through your body.

Exercise has also been shown to have a positive effect on illnesses such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and more. For people who are battling mental illness, exercise can provide a distraction from your current feelings. For example, by focusing on your breathing during a run, or concentrating on performing an exercise during a gym class, you are creating a different focus away from your day to day thoughts. Setting exercise-related goals and achieving them can provide a self-esteem and mood boost. Exercise can also provide a positive social element for those who feel alone and isolated.

As the days become darker and some of us suffer from the winter blues, there’s nothing like a good physical blow out to pick us up. Get lots of layers on, peel them off as your heart rate increases and your body temperature follows, and get into it.

Kneeling forearm to hands

Perform one round of this exercise and then repeat in the other direction. Repeat each side five times. Keep your core activated throughout by slightly drawing in your belly button towards your spine, and avoid sinking through your lower back.

1. Start on your hands and knees with your hands slightly in front of your shoulders and your knees slightly behind your hips.

2. Lower down onto your right forearm. Your left elbow will bend to get to this position and the weight will mainly go through your right forearm.

3. Lower down onto your left forearm. Both forearms will be evenly taking weight through them.

4. Shift weight onto left forearm and take right hand out, to go back to starting position.

5. Push through right hand to straighten left arm and return to the starting position.

First published: Jul 2017

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