An Introduction To Mood And Exercise
The link between exercise and better mental health has long been established, with many clinicians now recommending regular exercise not only to combat low mood and stress, but also as a treatment for depression and anxiety, alongside (but often in place of) conventional medicine. Writing for the American Psychological Association, Kirsten Weir (2011) notes that ‘within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect’. Also, that ‘research shows that exercise can help alleviate long-term depression’. Compelling evidence indeed, and it has been shown that the mood-enhancing properties of exercise are enhanced when we train with others. So that’s why I always feel so good after a club run!
However, although we know that lacing up our trainers and going out for that run is going to make us feel better, it’s not always that simple. Family and work commitments, household chores and general life stress all seem to conspire against us when it comes to establishing or continuing an exercise regime. Here is where routine is key: promising yourself that you’ll keep an hour free on a Wednesday evening for a club run. Or arranging to meet friends for a chatty run (or, indeed, a speed session!) either before or after work, or when the kids have gone to bed.
Yet sometimes, even when we are physically able to go for a run, we can’t bring ourselves to do it. It could just be a loss of ‘mojo’. However, I know of many people (myself included) who suffer or have suffered from crippling anxiety. Unable to train for the sheer worry of what might happen if we step outside the door. Worrying about what people will think if they see you running. Worrying that you look fat in running gear. So what can be done about this? A term often used in modern counselling is ‘self compassion’ – in simple terms, being kind to yourself. To make small and manageable changes. To avoid ‘all or nothing’ thinking. What this might look like in practice: you’ve planned a run for an hour, but really don’t feel like it. So you don’t go at all and tell yourself you are pretty useless for not running. This is an ‘all or nothing’ scenario. The compassionate alternative is to go for ten minutes and see how you feel. Chances are, you’ll want to carry on. If not, you have the option of coming home. You’re still lapping everybody on the sofa.
Part of my remit as a Mental Health Ambassador is to encourage people to share their experiences in a safe environment, knowing that they won’t be judged. This starts with self-disclosure and I hope that some of you will feel able to open up too. There really is no stigma in suffering with ill mental health, and the more we talk about it, the less there will be. Over the coming weeks and months, I’m hoping to start a ‘runner of the month’ feature on the website, where I’ll invite someone to share how running affects their mood. In the meantime…I’m off for a run!