MENTAL HEALTH A-Z: F is for Fitness

We all know that it’s important to keep a well-balanced and healthy life, you don’t need me to preach it to you. But did you know that during exercise your brain releases the ‘happy’ chemical, serotonin, which is the same chemical present in many anti-depressants such as Fluoxetine and Citalopram? Did you also know that the same chemical can be found in food such as bananas and turkey?

It is so important to take care of our physical well-being, and as students especially we do so many things that are harmful to us, but creating a healthy and fit lifestyle really doesn’t need to be so hard. Whether you’re mentally healthy or you suffer from an mental illness, you can make yourself a happier you by doing some of the following:

  • Try substituting your morning coffee for a glass of ice cold water with slice of lemon- this will give you a caffeine free high without the caffeine dip later in the day.
  • Instead of drinking fruit juices which are high in sugar, have a glass of water to quench your thirst and eat a piece of fruit for the taste.
  • Attempt to get at least 20 minutes of exercise each day. Walking counts, but running is better. Set a goal for yourself and strive to achieve it: the feeling of completing a challenge and succeeding is so much better than the feeling of staying in bed all day.
  • Try to avoid consuming too much fat and sugar. Although the body needs these in order to survive, too much is definitely harmful. You can cut down on fat by reducing the amount of meat you eat or simply by switching to the low fat option- but be careful: low fat can often mean high in added sugar!

Exercise is such a powerful tool for overcoming mental illness, as it creates a positive cycle. You exercise so you eat well, and because you’re eating well you have more energy which makes you want to exercise more and so on. It can be so hard sometimes to motivate yourself to get up and out, but once you do your body will definitely thank you for it. It’s an opportunity to relieve stress and regain peace within your mind, it can improve focus and concentration and it generally makes your body a happy one.

It is important however, not to compare your body to others. You should be fit and healthy for yourself, not so you can be as thin as your friend. Try to let go of unrealistic expectations and embrace a healthy lifestyle because it makes you happy. With the rise of social media personas such as Jen Selter and Kayla Itsines it can be hard to be content with yourself as you constantly compare your body to theirs, but fitness is a process, and the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.

Believe me, I’m living proof that this works! In first year my diet consisted of Sainsbury’s Fizzy Fangs, fish fingers and pasta and I would scoff at the idea of going for a run. Fast track three years and I know that when depression threatens to engulf me I need to get out and run and buy fruit and veg and I’ll feel so much better.

It is by no means an instant cure for all mental illnesses, but turning to fitness has done wonders for me, both mentally and physically. I’m never happier than when I’ve just been to the gym, and I hope you can make this positive change towards a happier you too.

Madeleine Block

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