Whether it be team sport or a walk around the block, exercise in all its forms can have a positive impact on mental wellbeing.
Whanganui nutritionist and fitness coach Audrey McCosh said the big thing
that happened when someone began to get active was the release of endorphins.
Endorphins are “feel-good” chemicals produced in the brain that provide relief from stress and pain.
“That in turn boosts our self-esteem and self-confidence.
“Also, when we move, we sleep better. Sleep is basically when our body is healing, so if we sleep well we are going to wake up feeling better and be less stressed and less anxious.”
McCosh, the former owner of Revitalise Natural Health and Fitness Centre, said going to a facility like a gym wasn’t a necessity.
She encouraged people to “just move”.
“As much as I love the gym, it’s not for everybody.
“Walking is one of the best things you can do, and going to the beach and putting your bare feet on the sand.”
University of Otago School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences Associate Professor Elaine Hargreaves said while evidence was clear that physical activity boosted mood state, the problem of how to get people to do it remained.
The Ministry of Health recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity for adults.
Moderate intensity results in “a slight, but noticeable, increase in breath and heart rate” but people should still be able to carry on a conversation.
The way to get people to prioritise physical exercise was by simply seeing it as important, Hargreaves said.
“That doesn’t have to be half-hour blocks, it can be five or 10 blocks throughout the course of the day.
“It seems weird that in this day and age we are still harking back to the idea that physical activity is hard and horrible. Actually, it can just be a walk. Just walk for however long you can.”
Nutrition also played a part, because it was impossible to “out-exercise” a bad diet, McCosh said.
“If you are eating s**tty foods and not giving your body nutrients then you’re not going to be healthy.
“A lot of the time, if you exercise you actually want to eat a little bit better. You don’t think ‘ah, I’m going to KFC now’.”
People had also forgotten how to breathe correctly.
“Put your hand on your tummy and breathe in through your nose for four counts, and then out your nose.
“When you breathe out you will feel your shoulders start to come down.
“Even if you do three or four breaths, three or four times a day, you will notice you feel calmer.”
Sarah Tyler, a fitness instructor at Whanganui’s Jane Winstone Retirement Village, said she always got up early so she could began the day with a bit of exercise.
“If I don’t, it feels like I’m missing something. I can be grouchier as well.
“When I’m teaching classes I want the people there to tell other residents about the benefits.
“You will feel better, you’ll feel happier and you’ll feel more confident.”
Tyler said she suffered from depression quite badly in the past and physical activity had been great in countering it.
“When you’re exercising you don’t tend to think about anything else that’s going on, like ‘work is crap’. It gets you out of your own head.
“You are doing something really positive for yourself.”
When going to the gym she would give herself 10 minutes and if she didn’t feel like doing it she would go home, Tyler said.
“That only happened twice in three years. Usually you just think ‘Yep, this is really good’.”
Hargreaves said physical activity with other people was also beneficial.
“You have got the sense of social connection alongside the benefits of the exercise itself.
“It also provides a lot of motivation. There is a barrier if you can’t find someone to exercise at the same time as you, but if you do rope them in then it has a double-effect.”
It was all right to put yourself first, McCosh said.
“In an aeroplane, when the masks drop down you put it on yourself first because if you’re breathing you can help someone else.
“If you’re fit and healthy, you will have more energy for husbands, wives, families, for everybody.
“We tend to feel selfish if we stop and do something for ourselves. That’s really bad.”