The Positive Effects of Exercise on Mental Health
“For me exercise is more than just physical, it’s therapeutic.”
The evolution of exercise through the human lifespan is fascinating. As babies in those early months we move and get physical by reflexes. With each movement our little baby brains light up and become stimulated and we are increasingly engaged and thriving babies. As we mature it remains impulsive until suddenly, it doesn’t. At some point we develop the idea that exercise or movement is about ‘keeping in shape’, weight control, or losing the tummy. The list goes on.
We can only assume what Michelle Obama means by ‘therapeutic’. At Reviewed Workouts we are mindful that the notion of therapy is often used to describe care for mental and emotional health but furthermore we recognise that it is a complex topic. At Reviewed Workouts, we have always appreciated exercise, but being asked to comment on Michelle Obama’s quote gave us both real pause for thought as we reflected on our own journeys and relationship between exercise and mental health. Neither of us are psychologists or exercise physiologists, but nevertheless with such an important topic during these times of self isolation, we felt inspired to share our stories.
Jacki – My Story
Like many people I first got into exercise as a by-product of playing sport in school, however, it was probably in my early twenties that I started working out in earnest. This was primarily motivated by wanting to look good. Being in shape and looking good made me feel good, but I never really connected this to the positive mental health aspects of exercising. It was only much later on that I made this connection.
Fast forward into my thirties, my husband and I had difficulties trying to conceive. During this time I really turned away from exercise as it just wasn’t a priority. As a result I put on weight and felt really low, something which, at the time, I connected directly to the inability to conceive. Eventually we fell pregnant, however, it wasn’t all celebrations as after the 20 week scan the doctors found a heart problem. Needless to say the rest of the pregnancy and even the first year of our new baby’s life I was consumed with anxiety. I still wasn’t working out, my body wasn’t bouncing back, and after several months I was diagnosed with anxiety and postnatal depression.
In 2017 I got back to the gym in little ‘workout’ doses. I started feeling brighter immediately and I was able to manage my anxiety better. Slowly my confidence in my body grew and with it so too did my workouts.
Today, I realise that this positive outlook is the same as I used to have in my twenties and that it has nothing to do with how I look. The value I derive from exercise is about how I feel, and how with regular exercise in my life I am a better mum and a better wife. Exercise gives me time out, to think, to process things, and to gain perspective. No matter how I might feel at the start of a workout, I always feel better and brighter afterwards.
Whilst 2020 saw gyms closed down, I was determined not to let it shut down my ability to work out. I started searching YouTube and Instagram and found them exploding with wonderful free workouts and I got stuck in. This is where Reviewed Workouts started, with a desire to enable easy access to the highest quality workouts and reduce the overwhelm of choice.
A HUGE THANKS to all of those trainers who post their workouts for all of the world to try. PopSugarFitness, BodyFitbyAmy, YogaWithAdriene, Move with Nicole, Tally Rye, and Zumba Sulu to name a few. Thank you for helping to keep me both physically and mentally well this crazy COVID year (my family would like to thank you too).
Becc - My Story
Similar to Jacki exercise has always been a part of my life. I’ve always enjoyed the endorphin rush of a good workout, but reflecting on it there has also been a secondary benefit for me. I am a rather shy person, however, when I workout (maybe it’s the endorphins) my barriers come down and I am more comfortable connecting with others.
I don’t recall exactly when I became aware that I needed to exercise, but when pregnancy and babies impacted how easily accessible things were, I became increasingly conscious of the need. While I can’t say I felt isolated, I did feel the self-doubt creeping in. I often felt anxious and that little voice in my head just wouldn’t stop putting me down. At some point I found a buddy to exercise with. Someone at a different stage of life to me but someone I could get moving with, chat, laugh, and finish up feeling the buzz of exercise and my perspectives started to be more positive.
With this experience I deliberately set out to exercise more when my second son was born. I was fortunate to have joined an awesome parenting group and quickly found like-minded people who liked to exercise. We would do power walks with our prams, yoga sessions and gym classes together, and afterwards I would feel like I could take on the world.
This year has been full of upheaval, not only with COVID but with loss of loved ones and a move to a new country with a young family. Managing stress and emotions is never linear and this is something I remind myself of on days when grief and sadness hits right in the guts. If ever there were a time to test the theories of exercise for mental health it’s now. I am thankful that exercise and Reviewed Workouts have enabled me to stay connected and fit and to the people in Sydney who filled my exercise cup by getting out and moving with me - they know well and good who they are- thank you for being part of the ingredients in my exercise therapy even now in the virtual sense.
Exercise and wellbeing:
We think that Michelle Obama nailed it when she said “For me exercise is more than just physical, it’s therapeutic.” Yes, Michelle, we completely agree. . on so many levels.
Below are some tips we would like to share with you to keep you focussed on exercise for mental health:
- Only worry about the day that is in front of you and how you can fit in some exercise. Even if it is only 10-minutes. This will still do you the world of good.
- Try to refrain from congratulating your friends and family on their weight loss or muscle gain. Instead tell them how proud you are of them for the work they have put into themselves. Try not to perpetuate emphasis on the physical aspect of exercise.
- Be mindful of supporting magazines that put the rich and famous on the front cover congratulating them for their weight loss or commiserating their weight gain.
- Spend more time congratulating yourselves. Next time you exercise we implore you to notice mental benefits like: if your brain feels lighter? if the day seems brighter? or if you feel better in yourself? Give yourself a pat on the back for the work you are putting in. Even better - log it in a journal. Even one line is a great evidence tool.
- If you are working out at home connect with us, converse with us, share the workouts you like with us. You can submit a review here. If connection is what you need we are here for you.
- Note: None of the above require a mirror or scales. Do away with them, or at least minimise the reliance on them, and go with feels.
Becc and Jacki are the founders of Reviewed Workouts, a website dedicated to reviewing workouts for busy women. Find out more at:
Founder of Reviewed Workouts I am a wife and mum of 2 gorgeous kids. I have always valued exercise and keep myself active every day by; walking the dog, training with my PT, or doing online workouts.
Exercise lifts my mood and reduces my stress, and this is why I do it every day. You may not know it by looking at me, because I also really enjoy food and living a good life
I am Co-Founder of Reviewed Workouts. I am a long term friend of Jacki (over 20 years), wife, and mother of 2 beautiful sons. Exercise has always been part of my life or lifestyle. My first date with my husband was a run and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to enjoy a day together.
My family recently moved from Sydney to Singapore, during a pandemic, which has been interesting, to say the least. Reviewing workouts has been a welcome relief especially during lockdown and quarantine and I look forward to sharing so that our community can enjoy a smooth transition into some new and varied workouts.