MOVEMENT AND MENTAL HEALTH
7 Ways to Improve your Brain Health and Wellbeing
All living organisms that have brains need to move.
This means that movement is linked to brain health and wellbeing.
So, if we know that movement is vital to brain health, the key message is, move it or lose it!
There are many studies which have shown that increasing how much you move each day can improve your mental health.
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Would you like:
1. Better sleep?
2. Happier moods?
3. A way to manage stress, anxiety or racing/upsetting thoughts?
4. To reduce your risk of depression?
5. Increased confidence, self-belief & self-esteem?
6. More time to relax, reflect and daydream?
7. New ways to connect with people?
The sea squirt is the most basic form of a living organism with a brain.
Once it finds the rock it is going to live on for life, and no longer needs to move, it literally eats its own brain – it no longer needs it!
1. MOVE YOUR BODY FOR BETTER SLEEP
Studies show that physical activity can help your sleep in 3 ways: by increasing sleep duration, decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep and giving you a better quality of sleep.
Does this mean you need to go to the gym every day?
Absolutely not! Physical activity includes things like walking, skating, biking, dancing, playing with animals and playing ball games, as well as many more examples.
But what time of day is it best to move?
Listen to your body. Try out different times and see what works for you. Probably best not to exercise vigorously too close to bedtime, but gentle stretching or a walk is okay.
What really helps is to incorporate movement into as much of your day as possible – take stairs rather than lifts, walk/bike where possible and regularly get moving and get active!
2. MOVE TO HAVE HAPPIER MOODS?
Choose movement for a natural high.
Sounds good, but how do you change the ‘toxic stress cocktail’ into happy hormones?
There are many studies which have shown that increasing how much you move each day and reducing the amount of time you spend sitting can improve your mental health.
That’s because moving your body increases your heart rate and circulation and also helps burn off the stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol – so you will feel more relaxed and freer from worry.
Then after approximately 20–30 minutes of physical activity that makes you slightly breathless, like walking or biking, endorphins are released and will result in a mood and energy boost for two to three hours, and a mild buzz for up to 24 hours.
Try dancing and jumping about to lively music or use a skipping rope to see
how many skips you can reach without breaking the flow.
4. MOVE TO REDUCE THE RISK OF DEPRESSION
Studies have shown that moving your body regularly can reduce the likelihood of experiencing a period of low mood or depression and also help you recover if you are feeling low or depressed.
Walking for thirty minutes 5 x per week – raising your heart rate off its baseline – has the same effect as a mild/moderate antidepressant … but with no side effects. You can even do it in 10-minute chunks and it will still be as effective.
But how do we get motivated to move when our mood is so low?
Take a look at the techniques Sam uses in the next section for ideas.
Case Study – Sam (15)
How to get motivated to move – a helpful technique
Sam’s challenge “It’s all very well telling me that movement can help improve my low mood and depressive episodes, but the last thing I want to do is get off the sofa”
Sam (then) – “If I’m feeling low I would put my attention on old memories of how hard getting moving can be and how nervous I would feel leaving my home. I used to tell myself that it won’t be possible to feel any different no matter what I do and imagine feeling even worse for trying”.
“So, I would stay home on the sofa and distract myself with food and Netflix, or playing Xbox, finding it hard to sleep at night and waking feeling even worse”
Sam (now) – “now when I feel low and stuck on the sofa, I focus on good memories, when I did enjoy moving – the energy I felt and how relaxed I was afterwards. I now know this will begin to gently shift the way I feel. I also like to use my imagination to create a plan of what I could do right now as my first step to get me up and off the sofa, however small, then imagine how good I will feel after doing it – meeting my need for achievement & increasing my self-esteem feels good.“
“After getting out for about 30 minutes I come home feeling sometimes a bit better and other times a lot better. It feels so good to take control of my feelings using movement. I also notice that I fall asleep easier that night.”
5. MOVE TO BUILD CONFIDENCE, SELF-BELIEF AND SELF-ESTEEM
Developing a regular routine of any kind of movement will increase your belief in yourself which increases your self-esteem and overall confidence. It builds in 3 different ways:
BE YOUR WORD – by doing what you say you are going to do you build a belief and trust in yourself and feel more in control.
FEEL PROUD – during and after you complete the movement you can bask in the pleasure of your achievement.
RIDE THE WAVE – the sense of achievement you feel will help you face challenges and meet other goals, giving your life more meaning and purpose.
Movement helps you feel in control of your life – you can choose how, what, and when you do it. Over time you will get to know what works best for you and will become more and more motivated to choose it for yourself.
Join with a friend to encourage each other to keep going, check-in with each other and increase the difficulty level as you both complete challenges.
It doesn’t matter what you do each time you move (it can be something different every time), or how fast you do it, it is the act of showing up for yourself that matters.
6. MOVE TO CREATE TIME TO RELAX, REFLECT AND DAYDREAM
For our brains to be well – relaxed, focused and able to make good decisions – we need some privacy each day where we can step back from people and technology to be able to relax, reflect and daydream.
This enables us to make sense of all the information we have recently taken on board, to problem solve any challenges and to have the chance to think for yourself.
Ideally, you would do this a few times a day and movement can be a great way to help you relax and think.
Some ideas of how we can move and get time to ourselves:-
• Walk on your own to school where appropriate
• Walk or play with a dog
• Kick or bounce a ball about in the garden or park on your own
• Run up and down the stairs a few times
• Go for a swim or to the gym
• Dance in your room to your favourite songs
• Go for a run or jog
• Go rollerblading or skateboarding
• Go for a bike ride
• Do dance challenges on TikTok
• Follow yoga videos or sequences on YouTube
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3 IDEAS TO TRY
Try straight away to help you take control of your body and mood.
NO 1. STAND LIKE A STARFISH!
This body move will soothe and calm anxiety and tension
- Stand up with your feet about 2 foot apart
- Close your eyes (if you feel okay to do so)
- Open your arms wide at shoulder height so your chest opens
- Breathe deeply in and out through your nose
- Say to yourself “all is well”
- Keep doing this until you begin to feel calm and relaxed.
For those who love the science behind it…
Standing like a starfish is the stance of openness and safety. The pose triggers your vagus nerve which lets the security officer (amygdala) within your brain know that “all is well”. This switches off your fight, flight or freeze response by engaging your nervous system responsible for rest, digest and repair.
NO 2. ENGAGE YOUR SENSES
As you walk, try this game to bring your focus back into the moment – it can be played alone or with friends
Name and describe:-
5 things you can see right now
4 things you can touch/feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
NO. 3 ATTENTION SWITCHING
Help each other feel better with this game to switch attention.
Ask yourself, or each other, a random question that gets your brain or body engaged into something new and unexpected. This will break the trance of anxiety or worry and put your attention onto something completely different. It can also make you laugh – be as silly as you want. Get creative!
Here are some examples:
- If you had 2 cars, a motorbike and a tricycle, how many wheels would you have?
- Name 3 cities beginning with the letter B
- Name 3 things you can see that are red
- Say your name and mobile number backwards
- Walk backwards in a circle while singing your favourite song
- If you were bored and only had an inflatable flamingo, a skateboard and a pack of cards, what would you do to entertain yourself?
7. MOVE AS A WAY TO CONNECT WITH PEOPLE
We are social creatures and to create a life that works, we each need to feel connected to friends and family. We are all different, so some people will need more connection than others, but we all need an emotional connection with at least one other person (or pet) to be mentally well.
Joining a group of people who gather to exercise, or move can be a great place to make and build connections with others. Having an activity to do together is also a great way to ease social anxiety.
Find a club or activity, visit www.thesource.me.uk/clubs
You can take control and change how you feel. Start small and build up your toolkit of ideas, using movement as your foundation.
Join with friends online or in-person to complete active challenges,
such as a ‘keepy-uppy’ challenge, street dance or karate sequences.
Speak to a school nurse.
Text: 07507 333356
Free, safe and anonymous online support for young people 365 days a year.
For children and young people in Lowestoft and Waveney.
Helpline: 0800 977 4077
Suffolk Children and Young People’s Emotional Wellbeing Hub
Confidential information, advice and support for 0-25 years across Suffolk.
Helpline: T. 0345 600 2090
Information and advice for young people in Suffolk.
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