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5 Ways Fitness Can Improve Your Mental Wellness

Written by: Fatimah Behagg

 

Fitness is transformative. It has the power to change your physical and mental health. It can positively impact all aspects of your life. Fitness is not just about going to the gym or working out. It is about creating a healthier lifestyle overall. It is not just about going to fitness classes or going for a run. It is about how these activities make you feel.

Photo credit: Synnott Media

Have you noticed the rush of energy or lift in mood you experience after exercising? The happiness or uplift in your overall mood is likely due to the release of endorphins that happen when you exercise. I call it the “happy hormone.” The rush of endorphins makes you feel good. Any form of exercise or physical activity can cause this.


Many of my clients are busy working professionals in high-profile jobs or living fast-paced lifestyles in the city. They have hectic schedules, and most are stressed out. They are juggling demanding jobs with running a home and trying to maintain a social life while fitting in exercise. Initially, they seek out my coaching and training programs to achieve a specific physical goal, such as losing weight or looking more toned. It is only after they start exercising that they notice a difference in their mood, their energy levels, and their confidence. It always pleases me to see this happen, as it is usually an overlooked exercise benefit.


Sometimes, a client will approach me ready to start a session, and I can see they have a lot on their mind. You can feel it just standing next to them, as if a heavy weight is on their shoulders, even before we pick up a weight. As a coach, I see this a lot. People go to the gym for many reasons. Many have something they are going through behind the scenes: stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, lack of confidence, low self-esteem, feeling overwhelmed, financial pressure, and family matters. Exercise becomes a form of relief, often being the only thing they can control in their lives. It is the one thing they hold onto because they know they will feel better afterwards.


I got into fitness as a teenager, but it was not until I had a freak back injury that I developed a reliance on exercise for my mental health. I was left unable to walk for months and experienced a serious bout of depression. Pain will do that to you. Not knowing if you will get better or how long the process will take is agony. After months of lying around and feeling at my lowest point, I decided to turn to exercise. It changed my life. It helped me feel strong again, not just physically but also mentally. That experience led me to retrain, transitioning out of the corporate marketing world and into the fitness industry with the mission to help and inspire others to live happier and healthier lives.


Fitness can change how you feel about yourself. It will turn a bad mood into a good one. It will create a surge of happy hormones, which can make you feel more able to tackle whatever stress you might be going through.


Here are five ways fitness can improve your mental wellness:


Boosts your confidence


When you put in the time, effort, and energy to exercise, you will start to notice physical changes in your body, which can boost your confidence. It is always inspiring to see clients achieve their goals and feel better about themselves. The confidence spills over to all aspects of their life, from feeling better in clothes to feeling more confident in social situations or even at work. If you are currently experiencing low confidence, try exercising. It will boost your confidence, both inside and outside of the gym.


Feel in control


Fitness is something you can control. You can control your level of input and therefore determine your output and results. Many of my clients who experience feelings of anxiety or overwhelm in their day-to-day lives like to exercise because it is the one thing they feel they have control over. Their workouts and training programs give them a set structure - something they can follow and tick off their to-do list. It gives them a feeling of being in control and on top of their health. Another underrated benefit of exercise, which positively contributes to mental health and wellbeing, is breath control. During training sessions, I coach clients on the importance of creating a breathing rhythm to improve performance, control, and exercise technique. Often, people hurry through a workout and rush through a movement just to hit a set rep count. Instead, I coach them to slow things down and breathe. This focus on their heart rate and breathing creates a sense of control over the movement. It allows for a better output. Focusing on the rate, quality, and control of your breathing can contribute to your health, inside and outside of the gym.


Gives you a sense of purpose


Working out will improve your mental health by providing you with a sense of purpose. Often, clients will explain to me that they feel a bit lost in their lives and lack direction and focus. They may not feel in control of what is happening around them, and as a coping mechanism, they will coast along because it is the easier thing to do.


Older adults often look to me to provide them with a sense of purpose. Exercise sessions give them something to look forward to and plan around. It contributes to making them feel more purposeful. The same applies to us all, regardless of age. Exercise will improve the quality of your life and help to provide you with a sense of purpose through structure, routine, and consistency. If you are currently feeling depressed or stressed out and you tend not to workout, consider getting more active. Setting goals will assist you and provide you with something to thrive towards. It will provide you with meaning and a feeling of being productive.


Helps to develop social skills


Working out in a gym or class setting can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness. It creates a setting for people to socialise and make friends. Several of my clients work remotely and often tell me that they feel alone, bored, or just miss the buzz of an office environment. Going to the gym or working out in a group setting can help solve this. Being around other like-minded people can help motivate and inspire you. It gives you an opportunity to speak to people about a relatable, common-interest topic.


Going to a regular fitness class can act as an easy icebreaker to start a conversation with someone. It can remove the awkwardness of knowing how to speak to someone, especially if you feel shy or nervous to do so. As a coach, people assume I am always confident, sociable, and outgoing. This is not always the case. Often, I find I get anxious in a group setting versus a 1:1 engagement with a client, so I make myself go to fitness classes at the weekend. It forces me to step outside of my comfort zone and allows me to become more at ease in groups of five or more, the more I do it. If you are looking to make new friends or even perhaps look for a new partner, signing up for a gym or fitness class might be a good place to start.


Reduces stress and depression


When people tell me that they are stressed out or feeling depressed, I encourage them to exercise or go for regular walks. Working out releases endorphins, which make us feel happy. These happy hormones can offset feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety. Feeling low or depressed can leave your body feeling drained. The mental anguish and anxiety can leave you feeling like exercise is the last thing you want to do. Yet, it is exactly what you should try to do.


There have been a few times in my personal and professional life when I have felt depressed and could not cope. I visited doctors looking for some help, and all too often I was advised or recommended to start taking antidepressants versus exercising. My argument is not that these pills should not be prescribed; I know many who have taken them for short, medium, or longer periods and felt happier and more in control. It helped to reduce or limit feelings of being depressed and worked well to manage low moods. My point and suggestion here are that exercise should also be prescribed as an antidepressant. Increasing your activity levels can significantly reduce feelings of depression and leave you feeling more uplifted.

I regularly recommend walks outside in the fresh air to female clients experiencing low moods due to hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle. Even a short, 15-20 minute walk outside can ease your sense of well-being and increase your overall energy levels.


Fitness has many benefits and has the power to improve your mental wellness. If you do not believe me, try it! If you would like to start a fitness and health program, book a free consultation. I would love to hear from you. I am a huge advocate for fitness, not just for physical health but also for mental health, and I would love the opportunity to help you improve yours.


If you would like my help to become stronger, fitter, and happier, feel free to get in touch. Book a free consultation, and we will discuss your goals and how I can help you achieve them.

 

About the author:

Fatimah Behagg is an entrepreneur, brand & growth marketer, and certified fitness coach. She has over 14 years of experience as a marketing leader responsible for global advertising campaigns, and regularly partners with start-ups as a consultant to build brands and customer experience programs. Her mission when launching ‘Flex with Fatz’ was to combine her extensive professional experience and passion for fitness to improve the lives of others. She regularly hosts talks on the importance of mindset & motivation, and blogs frequently on all things health, motivation, and well-being. Her long-term goal is to dedicate her marketing, leadership, and fitness experience to inspire on a global scale.

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