LIV EINEMO TOENJUM
For years experts have been telling us exercise is good for our physical health, but staying active is just as important for maintaining a happy and healthy headspace.
Clinical and health psychologist Dr Nicola Burton said research showed those who were physically active most often had better mental health than those who were inactive.
Dr Burton said there was a strong connection between physical activity and mental health.
“It is important to remember that mental health is not just the absence of problems like anxiety, depression or stress,” she said.
“It’s also about positive wellbeing, quality of life, coping, self esteem, optimism and good relationships.”
Dr Burton said almost half the population experienced psychological distress at some point during their lifetime, which is why she said it was vital for everyone to do some form of regular physical activity.
“At the psychological level, activity can provide distraction or time out from situations, contribute to self esteem and body image, [and] give a sense of achievement,” she said.
Exercise doesn’t necessarily have to be something gym-based, like running on a treadmill.
It can be done outdoors, or with friends, and can include anything from swimming and doing boot camps, to walking outside or playing team sports.
“Even small amounts of activity, like an hour of walking can be helpful for mental health,” Dr Burton said.
“Exercise does not need to be huff and puff to be beneficial,” she said.
Dr Burton also said exercise had been shown to have some social benefits.
“If done with other people, activity can reduce isolation and provide social connections, support, and opportunities for positive interactions,” she said.
“If done outdoors, the exposure to nature also has benefits for wellbeing.”
Personal trainer Elly Candi runs her own outdoor boot camp in Burleigh Waters five days a week.
Ms Candi said she first got into personal training because she wanted to show people how they could improve their lives through exercise.
“It’s not about physical appearance, it’s about improving the client’s quality of life and mental state,” she said.
“Many of my clients have told me how much they love training outdoors because of the fresh air that clears their mind.”
Ms Candi said she was a firm believer in the multitude of positive effects staying active could have on mental health.
“I want to show people that they can get out of anything by becoming a healthier version of themselves; a bad mood, anxiety or even depression,” she said.
The Head of School of Applied Psychology at Griffith University, Professor David Neumann, has been researching the connection between mental health and exercise for years.
Prof Neumann said he thought the mental health benefits that could be gained from exercise should be better communicated, as they had such major benefits for personal wellbeing and overall quality of life.
“Most of the guidelines around physical activity relate to the physical health benefits,” Prof Neumann said.
“There are fewer guidelines around how much is needed to improve our mental health,” he said.
“The good thing about physical activity is that even a little can help a lot.”
Twenty-five-year-old Griffith University student Annalee Hogan said she made exercise and healthy choices a priority, as it had a big impact her overall quality of life.
“Even the days when I don’t really have the energy and time to do any form of physical activity, going for a short walk really helps clear my mind and make me feel better,” Ms Hogan said.
She said she had always been an active person, even from a very young age, and said her mother signed her up for a range of activities as a child, including swimming, golf and gymnastics.
Ms Hogan now works out most days of the week and enjoys long beach walks as part of a routine to take care of her mental and emotional wellbeing.
However, she said balancing being a full-time university student, with a part time job, maintaining some form of a social life and staying active could sometimes be challenging.
“If I don’t have time to work out and go longer periods without physical activity, it really affects my sleep, concentration, and I get easily stressed,” Ms Hogan said.
“That’s why I always prioritise some form of physical activity, even if it’s just a short walk,” she said.