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Benefits of Exercise

The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Whilst the mental health benefits of exercise are well known and advocated for in the health sector, not all of us can attest to feeling the ‘runners high’.

Concrete evidence can sometimes be an excellent prompt to push people to take on an exercise regime. Science led approaches are increasing in popularity, as we are now armed with research and evidence that discounts outdated methods that leave us feeling weary and burned out.

Exercise is not only seen as a physical prescription now, but also as a mental one so it is important to get it right on an individual basis.

Notably, Yale and Oxford have placed exercise as of higher importance than economic status in terms of mental health, which is promising when faced with 2020’s onslaught of uncertainty and financial upheaval.

Unfortunately, carving out the mental benefits isn’t always straightforward and taking a moment to consider your personal circumstances and fitness barriers may be well worth your while based off of scientific reviews that suggest addressing these will give you a higher chance of enjoying and ultimately, sticking to, your fitness journey. 

In the 90’s, GP’s began referring patients to exercise schemes of various kinds. Fast forward to 2020, and we have more data than ever on levels of referral and subsequent uptake and implementation.

Unfortunately, a 2019 study has shown that we may be missing the mark in the UK. Somewhere, despite patients reaping the expected physical effects, mental health improvements are presented as the missing link, with wellbeing markers falling short.

There is a lack of qualitative data to go into substantive depth as to why this is, but we are able to draw from other studies that cite lack of adherence. Schemes typically last 10-12 weeks in the UK but attrition rates suggest that the longer individuals are supported for, the better they will stick to a plan. 

Fitness professionals wax lyrical about consistency and a long-term, sustainable approach. As a personal trainer, I can safely say that often clients begin a programme intent on hating every rep and every bead of sweat. Give it a few months and they will start to miss it if they are forced to take a break.

This habit forming approach can be aided with some clever, positive reinforcement from a trainer who knows their clients well enough to push the right buttons. This is backed up by qualitative information that puts practitioners at the forefront of success stories. Participants that felt staff were ‘professional, supportive and encouraging’ cited psychological benefits. Workers in the fitness industry should take note. 

Whilst the mental health benefits of exercise are well known and advocated for in the health sector, not all of us can attest to feeling the ‘runners high’. Concrete evidence can sometimes be an excellent prompt to push people to take on an exercise regime. Science led approaches are increasing in popularity, as we are now armed with research and evidence that discounts outdated methods that leave us feeling weary and burned out.

Exercise is not only seen as a physical prescription now, but also as a mental one so it is important to get it right on an individual basis. Notably, Yale and Oxford have placed exercise as of higher importance than economic status in terms of mental health, which is promising when faced with 2020’s onslaught of uncertainty and financial upheaval.

Unfortunately, carving out the mental benefits isn’t always straightforward and taking a moment to consider your personal circumstances and fitness barriers may be well worth your while based off of scientific reviews that suggest addressing these will give you a higher chance of enjoying and ultimately, sticking to, your fitness journey. 

What are the mental health benefits and how do I get them?

Firstly, certain barriers need to be confronted to avoid hiccups part way through your programme. Again, studies are a great resource for spotting these early on.

Non-adherence has been attributed to many factors that we can all sympathise with including the following; inconvenient operating hours of facilities, poor body image, inadequate supervision, lack of time, interruptions and not feeling socially supported.

Having a personal trainer, or a support group of some kind would discount some of these barriers outright. Personal trainers provide a non-judgemental ear, accountability and supervision.

With the growth of online platforms and trainers, many feel inspired and supported simply by logging into their social media and familiarising themselves with a likeable personality that imparts advice and ‘support’ from a distance.

Reading blogs and listening to podcasts also increases this rapport and slowly introduces individuals into a healthier lifestyle, penetrating their daily habits such as commuting, performing chores or unwinding before bed. Listening to our podcasts over at https://www.fitterhealthierdad.com/podcast/ should give you a good idea of why we do what we do.

Fatherhood is a complex but rewarding experience that our guests want to support with each of their own personal takeaways, whether it be whipping up a quick, healthy meal or drilling down into sport, injuries and time-management. 

As Mind points out on it’s website, exercise can contribute to better sleep, higher energy levels and managing anxiety, stress and intrusive thoughts. Other benefits include better self-esteem, reduced risk of depression and connection with other people.

Now, during Covid-19’s reign, more people are turning to online classes or interactive exercise programmes to engage with other households or their own family members. There is a distinct cross-over between barriers such as social support and poor body image, with the benefits.

Again, this points to the importance of seeking other people out and simply getting the ball rolling to get results. As a caveat, Mind reminds us that if you are already struggling mentally, beating yourself up about lack of inactivity will likely worsen any existing issues.

So be kind to yourself, and engage with exercise when you are feeling capable and choose ‘what works best for you’. 

Is it worth it for the input?

Many parents can attest that if they are happier and healthier, their kids will see the benefits too – and hopefully grow up wanting to exercise as part of a healthy, balanced regime that supports their future lifestyle and mental health.

Childhood obesity is unfortunately a key marker for future health issues such as insulin resistance, but the WHO’s (World Health Organisation) Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity points to environmental interventions to counter this. Parents are of course a huge environmental factor.

Bringing it back to you, it is important to remember that often we over exaggerate factors such as income or romantic success when summarising our levels of happiness and wellbeing.

This has been termed as the ‘focusing illusion’ by Schkade and Kahneman as it leads us to lose track of our actual level of contentment. In practical terms, this can lead you to make decisions based on false objectives which ultimately will undermine your true happiness.

For example, you might take that prestigious promotion over a position that will allow you to enjoy your favourite past-times and quality time with the kids.

Refusing paternity leave could potentially be another example of this, if you feel conflicted over whether to take a break from work at such a pivotal moment in your life. As cliché as it is, the simple things in life really can be the most beneficial, which includes physical activity.

Exercise is a precursor to a happy life and individuals who exercise are more likely to engage in other cognitively positive activities. 

The drawback is that it is possible for fitness to become the subject of the focusing illusion, meaning that we shouldn’t give ourselves unrealistic expectations when setting goals or expecting benefits in other areas of life. This could defeat the purpose and lead to fitness becoming another obsession with moving goalposts that causes feelings of insignificance and ultimately could force you off of a programme out of frustration.

If in doubt, use a practical guide that has been designed for easily accessible home workouts to get started and follow a sustainable, mapped out plan that takes your lifestyle into consideration. 
Check out our programs;

14 Day Fat Loss Kick Start & 90/10 Transformation Challenge

How do I get the most out of working out?

Of course, the boring answer is that this varies. In this context, exercise can be any form of activity performed for a duration and intensity to benefit your mental health. Most people have a preference towards individual or team activities such as sports. Do you prefer working within a team dynamic?

If so, you may want to get in touch with a local amateur team. Simply google Adult Sports Teams to source your local options. Perhaps you prefer gritting your teeth and using exercise as your alone time, in which case you might prefer a tailored online programme.

At Fitter Healthier Dad, we offer the 90/10 transformation guide as a tool you can take and run with. Convenience is sometimes king and that’s where we come in for time-pressed dads that enjoy getting on with it in an effective, streamlined fashion. 

If you like the social aspects of exercise but not the pressure, you may want to look into local group exercise classes that allow you to socialise, sweat, then socialise again. Popular classes with high male uptakes include Les Mills Grit, F45, Crossfit, Farm Fitness and more.

These are attended in person but there are suitable online alternatives which you can find such as the streamed ‘Barry’s Bootcamp’ and Third Space’s online offerings. Alternatively, employ a local trainer to directly support a small business and let them guide you online. 

If you want to seek some solace from the never ending requirements of your (lovely) children and re-centre, you might enjoy an online yoga class or mobility flow from Les Mills or HotPod. Start by Youtubing a free class and seeing what sort of instructor and approach you gel with first.

It’s a busy but fulfilling world of flexibility and core strength that can seem overwhelming at first, but is worth a browse. Thankfully, ‘Broga’ is now becoming more popular, opening up the current demographic of yoga to more men. 

How hard should I push myself?

In terms of intensity, it has been found that exercise of ‘high’ intensity correlates with high satisfaction. Before you order a weighted vest off of Amazon or download a sprint programme designed to decimate your shins and spirit within 10 minutes, just remember that high intensity is not for everyone.

Correlation does not equal causation, so it may also be that individuals who like high intensity exercise just so happen to report higher levels of satisfaction for other reasons that link them as a group. 

Aside from not everyone wanting to beast themselves on a regular basis, overtraining is a rare but significant condition of performing too much, too soon. High intensity should not be confused with high-impact.

If you have not exercised in a while, it is unlikely that your joints will thank you for 10 sets of box jumps paired with another shock-inducing exercise such as burpees. High intensity means high intensity for you, on any given day of training and can be low impact (e.g. swimming or lifting weights).

If it feels hard, don’t compare yourself to the 20 year old trainer fresh out of getting certified. Aim for feeling that you are working at a difficulty level of 60-80% throughout most of your session. This is a tool called ‘RPE’ (rate of perceived exhaustion) that trainers employ when with clients.

Overtraining will ultimately affect your mind adversely. Rest is the only treatment at a non-clinical level, which then robs you of the positive impact of exercise in the meantime. 

In summary

Exercise is a fantastic, free mental health aid that has the power to significantly improve your outlook physically too, as well as your childrens’.

Like anything, it should be performed in moderation and if possible under some sort of accountability or supervision. Social support helps, so see if you can rope anyone else in, or join an online group or system to keep your engagement levels high. Don’t overreach.

Listen to your body when it tells you that it has had enough, but strive to ultimately reach a fairly high intensity 3-5 x a week if that feels appropriate for you. Sessions of between 30-60 minutes are usually the most time-effective but anything is better than nothing.

Don’t sweat the small setbacks, or you will forget the main objective. Lastly, enjoy the process. If you don’t enjoy it, switch it up and keep moving. 

How can I start making positive changes?

At fitterhealthierdad.com we know how important it is to stay active for the mental (and physical benefits), so we have formulated a 14 day home workout plan.

This is specifically for dads stuck in lockdown so that you can start paving the way towards a healthier mind and body despite the current restraints. To support the exercise plan, we include 4 steps to fat loss with a meal plan and a workout calendar.

To provide social support, you can join the private facebook group where you will receive tips and advice and can share your own experiences and results with the plan. For more information on how to get on board, check out below 👇. 

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