Exercise for mental health and physical wellbeing

We are meant to move. Our bodies are designed to respond positively to movement. Our bodies work better, and our mood and quality of thinking benefit. I like to make comparisons with the natural environment.

When a river moves less, it starts to stagnate. Flow is reduced, silt and particles begin to build up, fish suffer, bacteria thrive and anaerobic decomposing conditions develop. The health of the river is stimulated by its movement.

Similar comparisons can be made anywhere where flow is reduced, from an airless damp bathroom where mould is encouraged, through to the arteries in our bodies that can become narrowed through inactivity. Encouraging the movement of air and oxygenated blood in our bodies as a result of exercise is both cleansing and energising.

And exercise is increasingly being seen as one of the best ways to improve your mood and the quality of your thoughts.

Studies are beginning to show that movement and exercise, especially in the natural environment, bring about positive results in managing stress or mental health issues – Also see these news articles :

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8654350.stm

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSCOL96941220070919

There are a number of ways we can move and exercise, and clearly it needs to be appropriate for the individual. But anything that encourages flow in our bodies and the active use of our muscles will be beneficial.

Breathing exercises alone can be cleansing, mood boosting and energising.

I remember a yoga teacher talking about the benefit of breathing and stretching exercises to cleanse the deepest parts of our lungs, which may suffer from ill effects through stagnation.

Any gentle stretching should bring about health benefits and increased flexibility. They don’t need to be advanced yoga positions, but the body is likely to become restricted and weaken as we get older without stretching –  to the point where putting on socks can become a challenge!

Perhaps attending a pilates, tai chi or yoga class would be useful in learning the fundamentals safely to begin with, as well as a way of meeting others (another positive factor for wellbeing).

More active exercises include aerobic training and strength training. Most sports and physical leisure activities will have the physical, social and emotional benefits already described.

Views on training regimes seem to be changing all the time, with increasing emphasis on resistance training and intense short burst training rather than endurance based training – see the excellent Dr Mercola website for a wealth of articles on this topic.

However, what is consistent (and growing) is the evidence that movement and exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve your health, mood and wellbeing.

So, if you’re not doing so already, I’d encourage you to get out there and get moving!

(image by Fiona Ayerst)

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