According to Mind UK, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year. Mind reports that in England, as many as 1 in 6 people experience a common mental health problem in any given week. They raise concerns that while the number of people experiencing mental health problems hasn’t changed over the years, how people cope has, and it’s for the worse. There has been an increase in people who self-harm and have suicidal thoughts.
"It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigour." Marcus Tullius Cicero
Almost 6 in every 100 people suffer an Anxiety Disorder, almost 3.5% of people suffer from Depression and almost 8% of people have a combined Anxiety and Depression disorder. These were just the most common types of mental health issues, there are many, many more.
One of the major benefits reported by the Department of Health is that exercise manages stress. Furthermore, it improves the quality of life, improves sleep and reduces your chance of depression by 30%. That is a huge statistic and one that should be taken very seriously, especially as there is a lot of bad press around the effectiveness of some anti-depressant medication.
Aside from the obvious physical and health benefits, exercise releases chemicals within the body called endorphins and serotonin, which dramatically improve your mood and are commonly known as the ‘happy hormones’. Exercising regularly tops up these happy hormones, and helps you to reduce stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
One visible example of this is if you have ever seen people entering a gym or a sports centre. They look stressed and tired. If you were to compare that to their faces when they leave, you will probably see that the stress has been lifted, they are walking more lightly, with their heads held high and their shoulders back. They have had a big boost of happy hormones, self-esteem and confidence whilst they have been working out, and they immediately feel better.
Notice how when you’re stressed, your shoulders tense up and lift towards your ears, hunching slightly? How your digestive system seems to slow down; you get stomach ache more, you feel bloated and uncomfortable and you can get constipated? You might suffer more headaches, feel lethargic and have no energy? Exercise is a magic ‘wonder-drug’ that can help solve all of these symptoms, you’ll be amazed at how different you feel once you start to exercise and allow it to become a healthy habit in your life.
It’s a well-known fact that exercise helps you sleep. If you get a better nights sleep, then you will tend to function better mentally then next day; you will be more able to tackle problems, find solutions and be more rational should something not go to plan. All aiding the reduction of stress and anxiety.
A recent study by Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health found that the risk of major depression was reduced by a huge 26% by just 15 minutes of running per day or walking for an hour a day. Not only that but if you continue an exercise schedule, then it can even prevent you from relapsing.
Exercise is also a great distraction from the toils of everyday life. It can take your mind away from your daily worries and give it a new focus, a new target to occupy it with, allowing you to find some space from any recurring stress and help to break any negative thought cycles.
In 2019, The department of health recommended that adults should be doing at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Moderate-intensity exercise is considered to be when your breathing rate increases but you are still able to have a conversation; like brisk walking, cycling or swimming. Vigorous-intensity exercise is when you are breathing fast and you have difficulty talking whilst exercising; activities such as running or sports.
Additionally, you should be building strength on at least 2 days a week, by going to the gym, yoga, carrying heavy bags or by doing bodyweight exercises.
The NHS suggests that there are 5 steps to improving your Mental Wellbeing; Connecting with people, being physically active, learning new skills, giving to others and being mindful.
Online group exercise covers all of these and you will be amazed at the community behind it to enhance your experience and allow you to reap the mental health benefits;
Connect With People
Having good relationships are considered to be important for your mental wellbeing. By joining online exercise classes you join the community behind them too. You’ll find that you ‘belong’ in the community, sharing your experiences after class, you might share your worries about trying a new exercise and be supported by others who have feared the same and overcome it, they’ll often offer to be there and be a friendly face at your first class and reassure you that it’s ok.
You will gain strength from sharing your achievements and successes with others, and celebrate their milestones too.
Be Physically Active
If you’ve never enjoyed exercising before, or just never tried, then Online Group Exercise classes are the perfect place to start. You are in the safety and comfort of your own home, you don’t even need to leave the house. You can build up your confidence and self-esteem step by step, joining classes that suit your interests and start to progress through from the beginner movements to intermediate and then advanced.
Setting goals such as being able to do a whole class without needing to take extra rest, or mastering the squat are great for boosting your confidence when you achieve them. Make sure you celebrate them and share your successes too, you’ll be amazed at the community behind you, ready to cheer you on.
Learn New Skills
Online group exercise classes are the perfect environment to learn new skills. You are in a group of like-minded people, all learning new movements at the same time and gaining support and strength from each other.
New skills and movements in group exercise will challenge your mind, co-ordination and your movement. Your self-confidence will be boosted and you will connect with the other group members, building friendships and camaraderie.
Give to Others
Small gestures and act of kindness towards others will help your own and their mental wellbeing. It shouldn’t be about expensive gifts, giving a fellow class member some encouragement, praise or recognizing that they’ve reached a milestone in their progress is more than sufficient!
Other examples can be asking your fellow exercisers how they are feeling after a workout and helping suggest tips to help soothe achy muscles!
Pay Attention to The Present Moment (Mindfulness)
Mindfulness is considered to be being aware of your current thoughts, feelings, your body and the world surrounding you.
Don’t let excuses get in the way of exercising; you might find that you have a lot of them, to begin with.
If you are feeling tired and exhausted like you have no energy and you just want to curl up on the sofa, then doing some exercise will make you feel so much better. If you have no energy then often the best thing to do to get more energy is to exercise. Your body will feel invigorated and you’ll feel better both inside and out. Regular exercise can dramatically decrease fatigue; doing more helps you feel less tired.
If you are feeling bad about yourself, if you are having body-confidence issues, your self-esteem is low or you just don’t feel happy in your skin, then joining an exercise class with other people who have also set themselves the goal of raising their self-esteem and body confidence will help. Working towards a common goal and supporting each other is a brilliant way of overcoming a negative body image and lack of confidence. Celebrate your accomplishments together.
If you want to exercise but find yourself suffering from anxiety, then joining an online group exercise class is the perfect place to begin. The classes are streamed to you via 2-way video link, so you are in the safety and comfort of your own home. You are in a safe and secure place where you can be confident and be yourself, you have complete control and will not be judged. You will also discover that there are many other people with similar anxieties and coming together to support each other will give you a huge confidence boost and may help settle some of your anxieties. Taking small steps, like getting closer to the camera, wearing less baggy clothing and trying the next stage of exercise will help you to improve and feel better.
If you are feeling anxious or depressed, under-confident or suffering from a mental health issue then try a little bit of exercise. You aren’t alone and by joining online classes you remain fully in control and in a safe, comfortable environment at home. Join the community and be part of making a positive change to your wellbeing and others.
Gemma Dobson is leading the #MentorMeHealthy Movement, encouraging exercise to improve Wellbeing and is the Founder of Stream Fitness, an Online Group Exercise Platform aimed at helping people build their confidence through exercise.