• Counsellor Lisa Blake found that running helped her manage anxious feelings

  • Here she explores the benefits of exercise to mental health

  • We have therapists and counsellors available to support you here

Exercise: love it or loathe it? My own relationship with exercise has always been complex. I was an overweight child so PE at school doesn’t conjure fond memories for me. I was always last in every sport and had to pack away the PE equipment. I got a bit more into exercise at university, only to dip out of exercise again in my 30s. Then life moves on, children arrive, followed by an early menopause and suddenly my weight wasn’t as easy to control. I also found as I grew older, I started to experience anxiety, which became really quite severe. I tried a number of methods to help with my anxiety and general mental health, medication never worked for me with unexpected side effects that I didn’t like.

Randomly someone suggested trying exercise to manage my anxiety and my mental health, so I jumped right in and soon running became my exercise of choice. I’d done some running when I was younger, but I basically had to start from scratch with the Couch to 5k app, which worked brilliantly for me. I got to 5K and then pushed through to 10K and that’s where I’ve stuck. 

Running to soothe anxiety and stress

The benefits of running for my mental health have been enormous. If I feel an anxiety attack approaching, then I go for a run, or a walk and those anxious feelings dissipate. I am able to manage my anxiety completely naturally without any medication. The combination of exercising and being outside, combine to improve a feeling of overall wellbeing. I appreciate that running or walking may not be your thing, but there will hopefully be an exercise out there that can suit each and every one of us.

There are proven links to demonstrate improved mental health and wellbeing, from exercise – whether that is daily exercise, for example, cycling to work or playing a regular sport. As little as 10 minutes a day can help boost our mental alertness and contribute to a positive mood and if you can manage more exercise, research has found that a low intensity aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, three to five days a week, can increase positive moods even further.

Exercise can improve our self-esteem and confidence in so many ways, it can even help combat loneliness for some older people who may feel isolated by enabling them to join an exercise group or club. 

The benefits of exercise on managing stress and anxiety are well-documented. Recent studies have even been considering whether exercise can replace medication in the treatment of depression for some sufferers. There has even been some research with dementia sufferers and the effects of exercise on their illness. Physical exercise has been identified as a factor that could help to slow down the effects of dementia and there has been research to show that participating in regular exercise can reduce the chances of suffering from dementia by between 20% and 30%.

Walk and talk therapy

There have been recent developments in the world of therapy to move towards including exercise in therapy sessions with the introduction of walk and talk therapy sessions. Walk and talk therapies are a relatively new concept but the initial reception has been positive. The benefits are that exercise is incorporated into a therapy session, where clients are able to move and talk to their therapist at the same time.

Some clients can also find the direct eye contact, found in a traditional therapy setting, too intrusive and a walk and talk therapy option offers a different way of therapy with less direct eye contact, which some clients may find more comfortable in discussing themselves. 

So, the next time you feel a bit anxious or have a low mood, why not try a quick burst of exercise and feel the benefits to your mental health and remember, always consult your doctor if you are embarking on a new exercise regime. Good luck!

Lisa Blake is a verified Welldoing counsellor in Newbury and online

Further reading

Is dancing the best medicine?

Chronic lower back pain: is it time to think differently?

What is the vagus nerve?

The importance of integrating movement into daily life

6 ways wild swimming can boost mental health