Today is R U OK Day, a national day of action to remind Australians that every day is the day to ask, “Are you OK?”. In the spirit of such an important initiative to reflect on our mental health, we have outlined the benefits exercise can provide our mind.

We hope there are some positive take aways to help through these challenging times, and don’t forget to ask ‘Are you OK?”.

How does exercise help mental health?

Exercise provides a host of benefits, not only for your body but also your mental health.

In fact, research shows regular physical activity of light or moderate intensity can lead to a reduction in the symptoms of depression by up to 50%, especially in women.

Studies have also shown that when treating mild-moderate depression, exercise can be as effective as talking therapy and medication!

What are some of the ways exercise helps mental health?

  • Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin (the ‘happy’ hormone).
  • Exercise pumps blood to the brain, allowing you think think more clearly.
  • Setting and achieving goals provides a sense of drive and accomplishment.
  • Exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality.
  • Exercise improves social connection.

Exercise and mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practise of staying present in the moment. Research shows that mindfulness can help reduce anxiety and depression, as it teaches us how to respond to stress with awareness of what is happening in the current moment, instead of being driven by emotive reactions.

Mindfulness can be implemented during exercise, to increase the mental benefits of exercise! To implement the practise, focus on the task at hand, your breath, and the movement being performed. Try switching off your phone or switching it to aeroplane mode so you won’t be distracted by texts or socials. Notice how you feel and tune into your body, and you will experience greater mental health benefits from your workout.

How much exercise is needed to improve mental health?

To reap the benefits, Beyond Blue suggests 30 minutes of ‘vigorous’ exercise at least five times a week. And this may be easier to include within a busy schedule than you think. You can make up the 30 minutes in blocks of 10 to 15 minutes, which is just as effective as 30 minutes of continuous activity according to the Australian National Physical Activity Guidelines for adults.

Exercises to boost mental health

There are many ways to exercise to improve your mental health, even with COVID-19 restrictions in place. Some great exercise ideas to get started include:

  • Brisk walking outdoors. This can also help reduce feelings of isolation and help to lower stress.
  • Yoga and pilates. These practises often include controlled breathing, which can calm the nervous system.
  • Online group exercise classes. This is great way to get some social connection during the lockdown.

If you struggle with motivation, think about ways you can easily incorporate exercise into your everyday routine. Walking to the shops, walking the dog or riding your bike to work are great ways to add some exercise to your routine. If possible, it’s also great to have a workout buddy to keep you accountable.

For more information, Jean Hails also has many useful resources, including the Physical activity & exercise guideline to help get you started!

In the Spirit of R U OK Day give your mind some love with a workout, and encourage a buddy to (virtually) join in!