At time of writing it is Mental Health Awareness Week across the UK. The theme of the week is one that has particular relevance to the health and fitness sector – Body Image.
Body image and mental health
When it comes to our bodies, we have a peculiar relationship. It is the one thing that is completely unique to us. No piece of technology will ever match our body for its complexity, its sophistication and its regenerative powers. We are all aware of our own bodies – our strengths and weaknesses, our abilities and our limitations. It is an amazing piece of kit.
And yet, for many people, our body is a source of shame and distress. We hold negative feelings that have a profound impact on our mental health.
An ideal body image that is bad for your health
These negative feelings come from the constant bombardment of what we feel we ‘should’ look like. Everywhere we turn, we are told what an ideal body looks like. Whatever our gender, race, sexuality, age, there is an ‘ideal’ body. The concept of an ideal is reiterated across tv, social media and product adverts. No wonder body image is a major cause of mental health issues.
At the same time, people who are happy within their bodies tend to have a greater sense of overall wellbeing and are less likely to engage in self-destructive behaviour.
Playing our part in improving mental health
Here at Kelsey Kerridge, we believe that we can help out in one very powerful way. Through our gym and associated classes and activities, we provide the means, support and guidance necessary to help people become fitter and healthier. We believe we are offering a path to improved mental health.
Exercise, the mood enhancer
There are three elements to this, the first being mood.
Physical activity has been shown time and again to have a positive impact on our mood. A study cited in Current Opinion in Psychiatry Volume 18 (2) 189-193 asked people to rate their mood immediately after periods of moderate physical activity, such as going for a brisk walk or a cycle ride and periods of inactivity, for example, reading a book or watching television.
Researchers found that the participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active, compared to periods of inactivity. They also found that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when mood was initially low.
There are many studies looking at physical activity at different levels of intensity and its impact on people’s mood. Overall, research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise – for 30–35 minutes, 3–5 days a week, for 10–12 weeks – was best at increasing positive moods.
Fit for life
The second element is the impact that exercise has on your body shape and overall physical health.
There is no doubt that regular exercise will help you tone muscle and shift excess weight. If you are struggling with body image then that is a start when it comes to removing that source of negativity.
However, regular exercise does more than just tone your body. It makes you fitter for life and that is a big step forward when it comes to improving physical and mental health.
Regular exercise will help you get better sleep at night and give you more energy during the day. By increasing your heart rate several times a week, you will benefit from more get-up-and-go.
You will also build a stronger resilience to deal with mental or emotional challenges in life. Exercise can help you cope in a healthy way, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviours that ultimately only make your symptoms worse. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress.
The gym as a social spot
The third element is a social one.
By visiting the gym, joining exercise classes or doing a workout with a buddy, you are satisfying that most important of human needs – social interaction. Isolation has been identified as a trigger for depression, while the presence of strong family and friend networks is proven to boost mental wellbeing. By joining a class at Kelsey Kerridge, you are getting a double benefit. You are getting the buzz of exercise and the feel good factor that comes from being in a room full of supportive people.
Of course, we realise that mental health issues are far more complex than anything we have touched on here. But we truly believe that in the battle for improved mental health, exercise has a huge and important role to play.