If we had all been told this time last year that we all had to stay at home and it would have been illegal to leave our homes unless absolutely necessary, you would have thought it was a plot for some kind of crazy far-fetched TV show. For many of us this has become the “new normal” and we have had to re-evaluate how we live our lives and go about our normal daily routines. One big impact that has resulted is the way the lockdown conditions have affected peoples wellbeing and specifically their mental health. Some people have had to shield for months and months meaning that their only contact with other people has come through a computer or phone screen or a snatched conversation down the garden path. There gets a point where Netflix and YouTube don’t make up for human interaction and no matter how many books you read or puzzles you complete you have to find something to relieve those trapped feelings swirling around in your head and body.

The word “exercise” for many is often seen as a chore and is often greeted by a roll of the eyes, a wry grin or a sharp intake of breath, but what do you consider exercise to be? It is a very subjective thing and means different things to a lot of people. We are bombarded with adverts, articles and studies how exercise reduces your risk of suffering many medical conditions such as heart conditions, high cholesterol, obesity, cancer, diabetes, bone and joint problems to name a few and whether we like it or not, you cannot deny the physical benefits of exercise. One benefit that appears to be extremely relevant in the current climate is the effect it can have on your mental wellbeing.

There are as many studies to show the positive effects of exercise on mental health as there are of exercise of you physical health. Being at home all the time staring at the same 4 walls and the same views from your windows can badly affect your mood and can then lead to depression, anxiety & stress and low self-esteem. Naturally it will affect some people more than others but for those prone to these conditions the effects can be substantial. Physical activity, even just walking will result in your body releasing endorphins which make the “feel good” chemical that courses around your body which can lift your mood and give you a happy and potentially euphoric mood lift. This chemical is produced by the brain and spinal cord and by raising your heart rate the body produces numerous chemicals including cortisol and neurohormones which can reduce stress levels and improve your cognitive ability which is vital if you are working from home or as many of us are now, studying from home. Exercise also aids sleep as it can reduce stress and anxiety and also makes you feel more tired at the end of the day resulting in a better nights sleep. This then has the knock on effect of allowing you to start the new day in a better frame of mind. With regular exercise you will not only be improving your day to day mental wellbeing but will also start to lose weight and with a more positive mental outlook combined with some weight loss you can feel better about yourself and boost your confidence and self esteem.

There are many types of exercise that can help ranging from Yoga and Tai Chi to walking, running and cycling. All of them have vary degrees of physical and mental effects on the body and even if you just go out for a walk each day for 10 minutes this is proved to be of benefit for your physical and mental health. Any sudden increase in physical exercise can have negative physical effects so you should take account of this and not overdo things from the beginning to avoid injury but if you gradually increase the time/ distance you go walking for instance, you will quickly see your stamina and endurance building. There are some great mobile phone apps to help you do this such as Strava, Map My Run, and Couch to 5k. I am not suggesting everyone should be out running 5k but these apps give you a great way of tracking and gradually increasing your exercise and setting some goals which give you something to aim at. This also gives you a great feeling when goals are achieved, however small, which boosts your confidence and self esteem. There are many exercise videos available which even if you cannot leave your house, you can do in your living room which will give the same effect and positive feeling.

In these strange times we all need to look after ourselves and a little physical exercise as a very good way to significantly improve your mental wellbeing. In my case, at the start of the very first lockdown I had never even thought of going for a run, anytime, anywhere or any distance. I started off walking, then maybe a slow jog, and then a 5k and now I can run a 10k, with a bit of a struggle! If I can do it, I’m sure anyone can.