With the UK in lockdown again, many of us find ourselves leading a sedentary lifestyle due to current restrictions forcing us to work from home. Circumstances such as these foster a decrease in mental health, and although it may be easier to sit around, we all know that something needs to be done.
How can exercise help?
Exercise can be a great treatment for many health problems, both physical and mental. When a lack of motivation sets in and we start to feel unaccomplished in our day-to-day, the addition of a bit of exercise can nip this feeling in the bud. This is because exercise improves blood flow in the brain, therefore influencing the amount and concentration of nutrients such as oxygen and glucose that are essential for the neurons to function. Thus, by improving the cerebral blood flow, exercise is likely to improve the function of the brain.
As well as helping people who suffer from mild depression, exercise can also help relieve anxiety by increasing serotonin levels. This is a chemical which is responsible for maintaining mood balance. Exercise increases both serotonin production and release, especially in aerobic activity, like running and cycling.
They aren’t the only forms of exercise that work to boost your mood. In fact, there is a growing body of research to back up the mental health benefits yoga provides. According to an article in Psychology Today, yoga increases body awareness, relieves stress, reduces muscle tension, strain, and inflammation, sharpens attention and concentration, and calms and centres the nervous system. Yoga practice changes the firing patterns of the nerves and chemical makeup of the body’s fluids and blood gases that activates a relaxation response.
By concentrating on carrying out the specific body posture and alignment of a pose and then holding it as you breathe deeply, the body starts to shift from a state of biochemical arousal and tension to calm and relaxation. Relaxing yourself deeply into a yoga pose through deep breathing lowers the brain’s response to threat. The body starts to turn off arousing nerve chemicals, like adrenaline and stops dumping fatty acids and sugar into the bloodstream for brain, muscle, and motor energy. Also, sodium leaves the inside of the body’s cells. This slows down the rate of nerve firing and further relaxes your brain, heart, and muscles. This state of biochemical relaxation oxygenates the blood, restores blood acidity and alkalinity balance, and reduces heart rate, blood pressure, and motor activity.
Yoga postures work on all systems of the body. Besides strengthening and elongating muscles, yoga postures tone up glands, internal organs, and spine nerves. Additionally, increased blood flow helps the digestive system to better extract nutrients from the foods you eat and the lymphatic system to eliminate toxins from the body.
Focus on what you eat
Eating well can also have huge benefits on your mental health. Make sure you are getting the right nutrients from your food – rack up your five a day and perhaps add supplements like Vitamin D to your morning routine to combat the lack of sunshine during the winter months. Also, it is vital you stay hydrated. If you don’t drink enough fluid, you may find it difficult to concentrate or think clearly.
Sometimes your gut can reflect how you are feeling emotionally. If you’re stressed or anxious this can make your gut slow down or speed up. For healthy digestion you need to have plenty of fibre, fluid and exercise regularly. Healthy gut foods include fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, beans, pulses, live yoghurt and other probiotics.
Regular exercise can help make you feel happier and more positive, so try to set aside some time to get out on your bike, break out your yoga mat or go for a run. Even just 15 minutes could be the start of a healthier, happier you.
Read about our pick of apartment-friendly workouts.