‘Moving our bodies in any shape or form each day can uplift our moods and help increase our mobility and mental wellbeing.’
LONDON — Is physical activity the key to a stronger mind? Two in three people believe it just may be, according to a recent survey, and health experts agree. In fact, relieving stress can be as simple as swimming a few laps, while walking could be the best medicine for clearing a mental block.
British TV personality and physician Dr. Zoe Williams says various movements can improve certain moods. She advises getting some fresh air by walking if you’re feeling stuck or unmotivated while working to give you a boost. That’s because walking helps your heart beat faster, providing fresh oxygenated blood to your brain, allowing you to think and focus better.
Meanwhile, the methodical movement of swimming gives you something to focus your mind on, helping to reduce stress levels, as well as releasing cortisol, which can help to manage stress. And dancing can be used as a way of quashing feelings of worry or anxiety as the physical activity can release endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, which give you feelings of happiness.
The advice comes from a poll of 3,000 British adults, including 1,000 who have a long-term health condition. Results show that 67 percent of those who do some form of physical activity claim it helps their mood. A third of respondents feel their mood is lower if they don’t move or exercise as much as they usually would, with mental well-being the biggest factor for 18 percent, when choosing a physical activity.
Overall, 29 percent agree that some form of physical activity makes them feel “calmer” afterwards.
‘Even the smallest of movements can make you feel happier and healthier’
For those with a long-term health condition, 38 percent agree that some form of physical activity believes it helps their well-being. In fact, nearly a quarter (23 percent) claim the impact it has on their mental health is their top reason for being more active to begin with. Conversely, not moving as much as they would like causes 45 percent of those with health conditions to feel down, compared to 27 percent of those living without a condition.
“It can be frustrating at times if we do not move our bodies around for a long period of time,” says Dr. Williams, who is working with the UK health campaign “We Are Undefeatable,” which commissioned the research. “But, even the smallest of movements such as walking, or stretching can make you feel happier and healthier. Moving our bodies in any shape or form each day can uplift our moods and help increase our mobility and mental wellbeing.”
The study also finds that 42 percent of adults without a health condition are active on more than five days a week, for around 43 minutes an hour. But for those with chronic ailments, this drops to 25 percent, for 35 minutes an hour. Seven in 10 adults admit they feel guilty (69 percent) when they don’t move around as much as usual, with that number rising to 76 percent of those who have a long-term health condition.
Not exercising can also make those aches and pains worse
It also emerged a third feel disappointed if they get to the end of the day and haven’t done as much exercise as they’d hoped for. Skipping exercise even makes people feel worse physically, with 18 percent saying they battle stiffness and pain due to lack of movement.
Almost six in 10 individuals (58 percent) feel they are already doing as much physical activity as they can, with this increasing to 75 percent of those with a health condition. Some of the most popular activities, of all the people surveyed, include walking (53 percent), team sport activities (20 percent) and swimming (18 percent).
The survey also shows that 51 percent of adults exercise on their own, with 45 percent of them noting that they find calm in being alone with their thoughts. “Gymtimidation” can be an issue for others, however. Twenty-two percent worry they will be judged by others and 20 percent fear they won’t be “fit enough” to join in with those who are in better shape than they are.
And of those with a health condition who like to be active solo, 28 percent say their condition makes them feel self-conscious. As a result, 52 percent of those polled who are active do their exercise at home, according to the research, carried out via OnePoll.
“It’s so great to see from the research that everyone, including those living with an illness or health condition, can get an uplifting boost from physical activity, no matter how big or small it is,” says Michelle Roberts, physical activity and health program lead from the Richmond Group of Charities behind We Are Undefeatable. “We want to encourage everyone to find the movements that match their mood and provide a source of inspiration for those who are unsure on where or how to start.”
Dr. Williams also offers some helpful tips to boost mood through exercise:
- However you’re feeling on any given day there’s a movement you can do to suit your energy levels and boost your mood. Aiming to do some physical activity every day – however you wish to move – can help us feel happier and healthier and over time could allow you to build up the time you spend being physically active.
- When you wake up feeling energized, a brisk walk is a great way to get your body moving. For days that start slower, a stroll can work to get your body moving and clear your mind. Walking is a great low-impact cardio exercise which allows you to improve your fitness levels while being gentle on your joints.
- If you’re feeling stressed, you could try swimming for a calm and focused activity which is great for your body and mind. The swimming exercise can also be done sitting on your sofa or at your desk, for an easy way to incorporate some movement into your day when you’re unable to get to a pool.
- If you’re feeling worried or anxious, aerobic activities such as dancing, may be a great way to relieve tension and get your heart rate up in a good way. Physical activity releases endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline which trigger positive feelings in your brain that can make you feel less stressed and anxious.
- When you’re having a mental block or feel unmotivated, getting some fresh air and moving your body outside is a great way to clear your mind. This outdoor movement could be an everyday task such as carrying shopping back from the shop, going on a dog walk or even doing some gardening.
- If you get to the end of the day and realize you haven’t moved as much as you could have, you could do some simple stretches and yoga moves before bed to help you unwind and rest easily.
TOP 10 PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES PEOPLE DO ON A REGULAR BASIS (ONCE A WEEK)
5. Team sports ie football, tennis etc.
9. Sit two stand
10. Jogging outside
72Point writer Mustafa Mirreh contributed to this report.