To celebrate World Mental Health Day, we’ve pulled together a list of the many benefits of exercise for mental health. We all know that movement and staying active is good for our wellbeing, but sometimes reading the stats isn’t enough – so below are some real stories from our STARSEEDS team about how yoga, Pilates, swimming and staying active helped them overcome significant mental health challenges…
Exercise can help you deal with the mental challenges of illness
We’re a pretty healthy team of yogis, but even the healthiest of us can still be faced with physical challenges such as chronic illnesses. Chronic pain, and the stresses of a health scare (even if short term), can have implications on our mental health, such as depression.
Movement not only helps with the physical side of living with a condition, such as easing chronic pain and reducing the rate of flare ups, but it also helps us process the difficult emotions that come up from these through improving mood, and even alleviating the depression and anxiety that can result from ill health.
“One thing you learn in yoga is to live and see pain in a different way. It’s okay to not be able to do all the poses, it’s not about ego, it’s about listening to your body and finding the sweet spot between the edge of discomfort and the beginning of pain, and knowing when to back off. Discomfort is not the same as pain, and pain is not the same as suffering. “ – Cristian Blanch, STARSEEDS’ Ambassador
“It took my focus away from being unwell and helped me move into a more healthy and positive state.” – Karolina, STARSEEDS’ Team Member
Exercise can help improve self-esteem and self-worth
Studies have shown exercise can have a significant impact on boosting self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. The improvement we see in our performance over time heightens our confidence, connection with our bodies and self-belief over achieving a task, and in turn, our levels of self-esteem and self-worth increase overall.
“Another facet of healing happens through the changes experienced in the physical body thanks to a regular sustained practice. Seeing yourself suddenly get into asanas you once deemed impossible, noticing how you have become increasingly more flexible and strong can heal the negative self-talk of what your body is, what it ought to be - the constant compare and despair. The body itself orchestrates this process, inviting us into its own deeper layers. The more patient and gentle we can be in this journey, the bigger the transformation.” Marta Wanderlust, STARSEEDS’ Ambassador
Exercise helps us cope with everyday stresses and busy lives
The benefits of exercise for wellbeing are well documented, and studies have shown that exercise can have a positive affect on stress management and stress reduction. Physical activity can help relieve muscle tension, which can build up through stress; it boosts our moods and can also help us relax. Stress can contribute to more serious mental health issues, so working through it with movement is a wonderful way to look after our mental wellbeing.
“Mentally I often have lots going on - flitting between yoga teaching and the performance industry - so yoga and meditation is my tool to reel everything in and feel sane again. Yoga simplistically means to unify and I feel that by channeling this unification of the senses to the breath, I am able to feel stronger and more prepared to take on whatever I might be doing in that moment.” - Matt Penman, STARSEEDS’ Ambassador
Exercise can help treat depression
The NHS state that exercise can be helpful to people living with moderate to mild depression, and it’s also been shown to generally improve our mood. Exercise releases both serotonins and endorphins, which are both chemicals in our bodies that help us to feel happy and can empower people to feel more in control of their depression.
“I have lived with depression all my life, sometimes it’s manageable, and sometimes I really struggle. Taking up pilates, body weight exercises and yoga was what got me through a dark two year period. No matter what help I sought or what I did, I couldn’t seem to shift the fog. As soon as I started a regular routine that consisted of these three, my mood began lifting pretty much immediately. Over time it was like it worked me out of the fog. As my physical strength increased, so did my mental strength.”
Images: Marc Laws II by Daniel Taylor