The mental health benefits of exercise

Before I started running, I HATED it. I would spend the whole year dreading my school’s cross-country run (which is only 3k) and would feel physically sick in the days leading up to it.

Was I unfit? No.

I had always been ‘sporty’ and as a result played in A/B teams all-round. I loved the team-spirit and competitiveness of sport. I found training sessions just as fun as matches.

However, what was holding me back from reaching my full potential was my fitness.

I had never been a competitive runner – short nor long distance – and would get out of breath easily, even after short periods of intensive exercise.

So, at the start of summer 2018, I decided to change that.

I downloaded an app aptly named Couch to 5k runner* and started immediately.

I am not exaggerating when I say that was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am so proud of myself for sticking to the plan and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I have proved to myself that with hard work and commitment, I can do anything that I put my mind to.

Not only has running improved my physical fitness and stamina drastically, I have felt a massive change in my mindset, my confidence and my happiness.

My mindset: at first, even the thought of running made me shudder with loathing. “I HATE running,” “it’s my WORST thing” and “I’m not a runner,” were lies I constantly told myself and others.

I had a negative mindset.

The thing about a negative mindset is, it does absolutely nothing to start you on your journey, even less to keep you going, and will actually prevent you from reaching your goal.

So, I took 5 simple steps to form a positive mindset to running:

  1. I downloaded an app (Couch to 5k runner*)
  2. Then bought some nice running clothes, an armband (these are a necessity) and some solid trainers (all the gear, no idea…)
  3. Before finding a supportive running partner (my dad)
  4. And planning out a beautiful and exciting route (TOP TIP: start in summer)
  5. Finally, I just did it (*insert Nike tick*)

And I haven’t stopped running since. With a positive mindset, anything is possible.

IMPORTANT: it is OK to try something and not love it. As long as you went in with a positive mindset, you achieved something. Pick yourself up and try something else/try again another time. Keep searching until you find that one thing you love. If running isn’t for you, maybe surfing is? …or Pilates, spinning, rugby, the gym…the list is endless.

My confidence: since starting running, I have noticed and people have commented that I have ‘lost weight’ or ‘look better.’ Although nice, this has not been my primary confidence booster.

Instead, feeling fitter and stronger has elevated my confidence massively and has helped me learn to truly appreciate how amazing the human body is.

On any journey, you start with fears and trepidations. On a fitness journey in particular you may not feel confident to make it through that first run; to enter the weights section in the gym; to join that new tennis club; or to dive head-first into swimming.

However, the perseverance and resilience you will exhibit along your journey will convince you of your own strength. Thus, the results you will see will make your initial fears seem like distant memories.

You will become a more confident person through fitness.

My happiness: in my opinion, a happy mentality the most important mentality to have.

By combining your boosted confidence with your positive mindset, I you promise that you will be a happier person.

I could delve into the ‘science’ behind happiness and fitness (you’ve probably heard that exercise triggers endorphin release which triggers a positive feeling of the body) but, I’m not an expert on chemical reactions so, I’ll simply state the obvious:

Exercise makes you feel good!

When I exercise, I feel motivated, energised, powerful, strong, capable, relaxed, stress-free and proud.

Happiness and exercise go hand in hand.

***

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the wants and needs of life that we forget how crucial our mental health is.

Someone once told me that there are only two important things in life: time and health.

Use your time on earth wisely and put your health first. Remember that improving your physical health is synonymous to improving your mental health: neither should ever be neglected.

Please feel free to share you fitness experiences in the comments below 🙂

What mode of exercise benefits you and your mental health in the most positive way?

***

*Couch to 5k runner

I would highly recommend this app if you are new to running, or equally if you are a regular runner who is looking for a simple and easy way to record your runs.

The app is £4.99 (I think) for the entire plan and remains to this day the best 5 quid I have ever spent.

It offers 3 runs per week for 8 weeks. On the final day of the plan (week 8, day 3) you will run 5k (or further) in 35mins of non-stop running.

The great thing about the app is that you can use it subjectively. There is no pressure to do 3 runs per week, or even to complete the plan in 8 weeks.

Personally, I would run 4-5 times per week using the app and took nearer 4 months to be running comfortable 5ks in 35mins. You can repeat days on the app as many times as you need.

The runs are structured by alternating blocks of walking and running. As you move through the plan, the walking blocks become shorter and more infrequent. Therefore, you can push yourself to slowly build up your stamina, but at your own pace.

One of the best things about the app is that all your runs are logged. Your distance, total time and time running is individually recorded for each run, as well as your overall distance run, time run and runs completed.

After you have finished the plan, you get a certificate (yay!), but can also repeat any of the runs anytime. Therefore, you can continue to run 5ks every week to maintain the stamina and fitness you have built.

There is also a Couch to 10k runner app if you wish to continue your fitness journey further.

*This post is not sponsored by the app!