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Mental health and exercise

exercising

Watching the Olympics has been great – especially as Team GB did extremely well! But being a top sportsperson must require a level of commitment and sheer determination most of us can’t even begin to imagine.

I don’t find it as a surprise to learn that mental illness is a significant issue for many professional sportsmen and women. Well known people such as David Beckham, Serena Williams and Dame Kelly Holmes have all talked with candour about their own mental health challenges. It’s a welcome development that sports governing bodies have signed up to the Mental Health Charter for Sports and Recreation, in collaboration with UK mental health charities.

For those people who are slightly less sporty (myself included), making the transition from the comfort of the armchair to exercise can still be a daunting prospect. Many years ago I had sporting ambitions of my own, but somewhere along the way they were shelved. Yet there is overwhelming evidence to show that regular exercise has a positive impact on our mental health.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, people participating in exercise find that it can help with appetite, concentration, mood, sleep and relaxation. Although despite the proven benefits, recent figures indicate only 16% of people with mental health problems take part in regular exercise. With this in mind, charities and sporting bodies are now working towards making sport a welcoming place for everyone, while at the same time encouraging medics to recommend physical activity to their patients for common mental health problems such as depression.

If your running shoes have run off and you no longer fit into your lycra, getting started with any form of exercise or sport can be a bit of a hurdle in itself! The Royal College of Psychiatrists has produced this useful leaflet to get you started. Or check out this advice from Young Minds.

Exercising needn’t be costly either with plenty of activities which are both free and enjoyable, such as running, rambling or walking. Perhaps you’ve got a bike gathering dust in the shed? Put it to good use and go for a cycle! I’ve heard great things about ParkRun – free, sociable, organised runs for people of all ages and abilities. Why not find out if there’s one near you? Or Mental Health Mates regularly organize rambles around the country for sufferers of mental illness which offer a safe place for you to walk and talk about your problems without fear of being ostracised.

From my own personal experience, I can vouch that exercise really does help with mental health. It clears my mind, gives me focus along with a sense of relaxation afterwards. I don’t stick to a routine, but whenever I can, I find running, boxing and basketball really enjoyable as well as going for family walks with my wife and five children.

For most of us, the Olympics are a great sporting event to be enjoyed from the sofa and I hope that the games will inspire you to try and get a bit more exercise. It really does help.

Adam

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