For the month of June, we have decided to take to the roads for charity. We challenged ourselves to exercise for the equivalent time of walking between our Belfast and Dublin branches 10 times. Charities have been struggling since the outbreak of COVID-19 due to increased pressures and reduced funding – you can read more about that here: Helping Charities During Lockdown.
To ensure the challenge was inclusive, we have chosen a time-based goal so that everyone can get involved by doing whatever exercise they feel comfortable doing. This is important not only because it is a great team bonding opportunity but the benefits to mental wellbeing are immense.
Exercise for Mental Wellbeing
Mental wellbeing can be described as a positive mental and social state. There is no universal definition, but it includes factors such as:
- Feeling good about ourselves and the ability to function well in relationships or individually
- Being able to deal with life’s ups and downs and making the most of opportunities
- Feeling connected to our surroundings and community
- Freedom and control in our lives
- A sense of value and purpose
Whatever your age or level of fitness, being physically active can help your mental health and improve your wellbeing.
How does exercise help?
Physical activity results in your body releasing a chemical called endorphins which simply make you feel good. The exercise helps raise your self-esteem and reduces stress and anxiety, helping to prevent mental health problems from developing. When exercising you tend to focus on the ‘now’, not thinking of the past or worrying about the future, two common areas that drag people down.
Exercise has been proven to have a positive impact on our mood.
In a study carried out at the University of Stuttgart, several participants completed a 10-week diary where they were asked to rank factors associated with overall mood. It was found that after exercise, and in comparison to periods of inactivity, the participants energy levels, calmness, and valance (how good they felt about a situation) all ranked higher. It was also found that a greater benefit was found when their mood was lower to begin with.
Other studies have looked at the level of intensity and found that low-intensity exercise of around 30 minutes per day, 3-5 days per week provided the best benefits in mood.
People often get stressed over seemingly minor things, but in reality, our bodies naturally create a stress response to events that make us feel threatened or upset our life balance – it’s entirely natural to feel stressed. Stress can lead to a multitude of problems including loss of appetite, sleeping problems, and increased blood pressure.
Exercise can be an effective stress reliever. Studies have shown that people who are highly active tend to be less stressed in comparison to those who are inactive.
Self-esteem is how we see ourselves and how much we feel we are worth. It is an important factor in mental wellbeing and being able to cope with stress.
Exercise has been shown to benefit our self-esteem, with the relationship being found in people from all ages and genders.
Depression and anxiety
Depression and anxiety are becoming better understood and yet with each passing day it seems to be becoming more of an issue. Exercise can be incredibly beneficial to combatting depression and anxiety, with studies showing that it can be used as a standalone treatment or in combination with medication or psychological therapy.
Exercise does not have the stigma that some place on medication or psychotherapy and has no side effects while being openly available to almost anyone.
We are well aware of the power of sleep, and yes regular exercise can help to reboot and restore your natural circadian rhythm and body clock, enabling you to naturally go to bed earlier and sleep more soundly.
Where do I start?
It’s important to do exercise that you are comfortable with and that you enjoy, be that alone or in company, outdoors or indoors.
Getting support from friends, family or work colleagues can be beneficial to overcoming the initial barriers and making exercise a habit. Participating with a companion can help reduce the anxiety associated with body image when you are starting out, plus give you the feeling of accountability to ensure you achieve your goals with someone else, as you help each other.
Find the activity that is right for you. Some people like running, some like cycling, while others may enjoy a sport such as golf or a racquet sport. Whatever it is, start slow and make sure that you’re enjoying it – if it’s a chore then you’ll never make it a habit. Avoiding injury is key for all who exercise, so ensure you warm up appropriately and build up as you go so avoiding downtime due to injuries.
Setting goals can be beneficial for you to track progress and see that what you’re doing is benefitting you. There are countless apps that can help you track exercise and if you’re really getting into it, consider investing in a smart watch. Seeing your progress will give you a massive sense of achievement and make it all worthwhile.During this crisis, community spirit and the offer of help to each other has been overwhelming, so we at Realtime are trying to do our small bit to engage our team to support a couple of fantastic charities that do amazing work with children.
You can give to the charities that we have chosen to support here: