Mental Health Workout

Christina ReynoldsMental Health Week, positive psychology, Uncategorized

There are lots of ways in which we can look after our mental health. In some ways good mental health is like a jigsaw – if we put the pieces together correctly we end up with a nice picture.

Over the course of Mental Health Week the Zest Infusion team will look into some important pieces of this jigsaw that can contribute to better mental health. We will give you more detailed information on some of these jigsaw pieces so that you can start looking for the pieces that are missing and start assembling them for improved mental health.

The jigsaw pieces we will focus on are the importance of exercise and food on mental health. We will describe to you what psychological happiness is and what we can do to achieve it. We will then try to help break the barriers for seeking professional help by clarifying some myths about seeing a psychologist. We will also talk about the importance of learning how to deal with difficult emotions at an early age. Finally, we will hear from a psychology client about his personal experience of therapy.

As the title of this blog might have already given away, the focus of our first blog will be on the impact physical exercise has on mental health.

The most obvious reason why exercise can contribute to better mental health, is because exercise usually contributes to better physical health. Research has clearly shown that regular physical activity can help prevent a number of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, hypertension, obesity and osteoporosis (Warburton et al., 2006). I think we all know how difficult it can be to do our best at our job, enjoy time with family and friends and to engage in leisure activities when we just have a cold or a headache. Feeling only slightly sick for a few days can have a noticeable effect on our mood. It therefore is not surprising that chronic illnesses such as the ones mentioned above can significantly affect our mood and thus our mental health. Therefore improving our physical health through exercise can be a great step to improving our mental health.

However improved physical health is not the only reason exercise can affect mental health. Some research has also shown that exercise can improve our thinking, help us to deal better with stress and improve our sense of well-being (Taylor, et al., 1985).

Sharma et al. (2006) even writes that physical exercise is often an underrated and neglected intervention for people suffering from mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Many studies have shown that moderate exercise, even only to the extent of a 30 minute walk 3 times a week, can be related to a significant reduction in the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Furthermore exercise can improve self-esteem and help with social connection.

As you have read above there are plenty of reasons to get into exercise and become more physically active. Here are some tips on how to start a regular exercise routine.

1. Don’t set the bar too high
According to research, 30 minutes of moderate exercise 3 times a week can make a big difference so there is no need to run a marathon. Start slowly at your own pace to avoid getting exhausted or injuring yourself.

2. Make it fun
Do something that you enjoy, or that you used to enjoy. It does not have to be officially a sport. Playing outside with your kids or taking them to the park and playing ball with them can be enough.

3. Include your friends and family
We are much more likely to give up on an activity if we do it alone. If we involve family or friends and are accountable to someone else we are more likely to keep it going.

4. Make it part of your daily life
Maybe you could choose to take the bus or train to work and use your bike to get to the bus or train station or decide to use the stairs instead of the elevator. There is a myriad of possibilities to increase your activity level over the course of your day. The 30 minutes of moderate exercise needed to make a difference does not have to be finished off in one big chunk, you can spread your movement over the whole day.


Sharma, A., Madaan, V. and Petty, F. D. (2006)
Exercise for Mental Health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry, 8(2).

Taylor, C. B., Sallis, J. F. and Needle, R. (1985).
The Relation of Physical Activity and Exercise to Mental Health. Public Health Reports, 100(2), pp.195-202.

Warburton D. E. R., Nicol, C.W. and Bredin, S.S.D. (2006).
Health Benefits of Physical Activity: The Evidence. Review 174(6), pp. 801-809.

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