India Flowers is the General Manager of Anytime Fitness Sutton-in-Ashfield. She’s always been active whether it be dancing at a young age, playing football in the park or just being on her bike. Today, she shares some of her thoughts and experiences on the impact exercise can have on your mental wellbeing.
First, a bit about me. I had always been active as a child; I never had a phone until I was a teenager and ‘apple’ was something you could eat; not a company that has taken over our lives (ironically, I’m writing this on an iPad). I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 19 and was on medication for many years but found myself living life like a walking zombie. I had counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and tried many more options but nothing seemed to be working. I just couldn’t seem to manage my moods.
One day my dad took me to the local gym and we trained together. Looking back, I don’t think we did much in the gym that day, just went on a few resistance machines and had a brisk walk on the treadmill afterwards. Just being around like-minded people and being active was a ‘light bulb moment’. I joined a gym and years later became a Personal Trainer, Manager of a gym and the rest is history. I consider myself very lucky that I no longer feel the need to take medication. I manage my mental health with healthy eating, being outdoors whenever I can, seeing friends and family and above all just being more active.
There are almost 68 million people living in the UK 2020 and Mind found that one in four people in the UK will experience mental health problems each year. That means each year there is about 17 million people experiencing mental health problems; 46 thousand people each day. While you should always speak to a doctor about any mental health worries you have, there are some things you can consider to support your general mental wellbeing.
As a nation, we are rather inactive. We tend to wake up, get in our cars, go to work, sit in an office all day, get back into our cars, go home and sit on the sofa watching tv or playing video games, go to bed and then the cycle begins again. Is there any wonder that our brains are ‘foggy’? We don’t often get sunlight here (thanks to British weather) but getting outside and soaking up some vitamin D is such an important factor for supporting your mental wellbeing. Being outdoors is linked with reduced levels of chronic stress, reduction in obesity and overall improved concentration. If you can, why not set up a work station outside for an hour and make sure to take the NHS recommended 20 mins walk a day? Get some fresh air in your lungs and sun (even if through the clouds) on the skin, rather than that office air conditioning, the central heating in your homes or the fans in our cars.
What are your goals?
When we ask people that are looking to join a gym “what is your goal? What would you like to achieve whilst being a member of this gym?” More often than not the answer is “I’d like to lose weight” or “I want to get rid of my gut.” It’s only when breaking these answers down and really digging deep we find our client’s main focus isn’t actually to lose weight, it’s to be more active and feel happier within their own bodies. They want to be able to run around the park with their children and one day their grandchildren. The younger generations are getting more and more involved in the gym which is really great to see, although we see a lot of younger people have unrealistic, aesthetic based goals. To the untrained eye, it is hard to see what is natural, what is genetics, what is implants and what is photoshopped. For example, one in 5 adults said looking on social media had caused them to worry about their body image. So, reflect on your goals and find the source of them, which goals are really for you and which do you have because you think you should?
If we’re having more fun and building activities into the day, naturally we will move more. This could be trying to reach a daily step goal or creating weekly challenges between friends and family with a small prize for the winner, even if it’s just bragging rights. In the gym, it’s great to train with a friend for encouragement and motivation. Our clubs often have numerous classes and create a friendly, fun environment to work out and be social at the same time. At the end of the day the majority of people will only work out if it’s fun. So, this is the key.
If you exercise in a fun environment, met new people and had social interactions do you think your mental health would improve? Exercise releases endorphins and increases serotonin levels. These are your happy hormones. Agreed you may feel sore the next day but isn’t that a great reminder and a pat on the back that you have worked hard and done something to improve yourself and your wellbeing?
Don’t ever feel that you are alone with mental health. Speak to your doctor, get some fresh air, speak to a friend and try to move more.