Mental Health & Wellness

The active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health has massively increased over the last decade – we know more about health and wellness and the impact certain choices have on our body and mind than ever before.

More specifically when we talk about exercise, there is a general consensus that increased exercise is associated with a reduced risk of illnesses such as diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease but we are now starting to understand it’s important association with mental health as well.

One of the most recent and largest studies to date evaluated 1.2million people and their relationship with exercise and their mental wellbeing. It revealed that those who exercised, reported better mental health or less ‘bad days’ per month than non-exercisers. All exercise types were associated with better health with team sports, cycling and aerobic/gym activities having the most positive impact.  This study has come under fire as some have honed in on the data that revealed that high levels of exercise also reported poor mental health, which led to the interpretation that high levels of exercise (more than 6 h per week, or about 52 min per day) has an adverse effect on mental health. This data however, cannot be simplified in this way. We all interpret ‘bad days’ differently – self-reporting data in studies is always controversial. It is also known that in such studies over reporting of exercise is common and may have an impact on overall results. There is also no scientific research to support that high levels of exercise contribute to poor mental health. It has been found that 90 minute stints of energetic exercise produce positive neurobiological responses, activating the endocannabinoid system and upregulating brain derived neurotrophic factor, which is known to activate the ‘antidepressant benefits of exercise’. The message here would be to get to know your body and your own levels of how exercise can benefit your body and your mind.

Another subject surrounding the conversation of mental health is the worrying research of how constant digital connection, smartphones and social media are creating a depression and anxiety epidemic. So, as we can think about what we can do to help our mental health through increasing exercise, we must also think about what can be decreased as well.  Social connection (not social media connection!) is the foundation of happiness. Tech addiction in many ways is equivalent to where the smoking issue was decades ago and the initial reluctance to believe the negative health impact will be overwhelmed the evidence.

To counteract this serge in negative digital connection – ironically 2018 has seen the rise of tech-fighting tech with the trend of a new wave 
of technology and apps that help us to spend less time on our smartphones and screens.  Do we really need this – can we not just put down the phone and go for a walk or actually meet a friend rather than message them? Of course, we know it is not that simple and we would never reduce mental health issues to being so. Increasing our mental health can take time and sometimes what can be seen as a minor change can make a big difference. More often than not we should strive to include positive changes and additions, rather than focusing on what we should be limiting. If we naturally increase activity and exercise we will naturally decrease screen time which will both have a positive effect on mental health.

If you are having issues with anxiety or depression, looking at how to improve sleep may be a good place to start to make some changes. If you have issues sleeping due to anxiety Dan offers this advice:

Incorporating a daily practice is very useful, it doesn’t matter what it is, be it fitness, a walk, a just a stretch. Just doing something every day helps you connect with your body will give you benefits. Lose yourself in the movements rather than thinking about results or other people.”

1. Sleep Routine

Try and decrease your screen time before bed by focusing on a ‘bedtime ritual’. Studies have shown that ‘blue light’ from your devices can affect your sleep as it suppresses melatonin production which can interfere with your natural sleep cycle known as the circadian rhythm. For the hour before you sleep take a relaxing bath or read a book.”

2. Foam Rolling

Five minutes of foam rolling 20 min’s before bedtime will loosening up tight fascia (the connective tissue below skin) and it’s a bit like having a sports massage. It’s a cheap but effective way of finishing the day with bit some self-care. Focus on your glutes, hamstrings and calves. And don’t go at it on the ITB band. It’s common misconception that focusing on this area will help you. It wont, it will just make you sore!

3. Restorative Yoga

We all hold tension in our body. Stress and bad posture tend to build up throughout the day and holding a stretch to lengthen body can really help and be meditative too. One of my favourites is Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend). Sit on the edge of a folded blanket with your legs extended. Exhale and stretch your spine long as you fold forward. Keeping your spine long, hold onto your feet, with your elbows bent and your arms relaxed. Rest your forehead on a pillow or on your legs and hold for five minutes. Your body is more flexible than you realise and we have to allow our bodies to be reminded of this fact. Be patient while holding this pose, it’s is vital that you keep the mind still and focus on calm controlled breathing to help maximize the sleepiness benefits“.