Mental Health Week

Mental Health Week

The theme for Mental Health Week 2024 is move more for mental health. 

Great. I hate exercise!

Last night I had a headache and very little energy but I still went to the leisure centre to swim.

You might think from that sentence that I’m one of these super fit people that power through the pain and exercise whatever they feel like – but I’m not.

Mental health week is all about moving more being good for your mental health, but I know it can be difficult for people to do more exercise especially when they are going through mental illness. When I was severely depressed, I was given a book that told me all the things I should be doing to improve my mental health – exercising, talking to people, writing letters, eating well, getting outside etc. And yes they are all things that are great for your mental health, except at the time I couldn’t even get out of bed. Having a shower and eating something were about as good as my day was going to get, and some days I didn’t even get that far.

As I improved, I was able to do more, but for many years I have lived with low levels of energy and poor physical fitness. I was frequently told that the more I exercised the more energy I would have, so I would try to do something but then have nothing in the tank for the rest of the week. For years I tried with this boom-and-bust way of exercising, but nothing seemed to change.

Gradually my health has improved and I’m trying to find ways of putting more activity into my life. So here are my thoughts on moving more if, like me, you are not a fan of exercise.

1) Make it easy.  

In the book atomic habits by James Clear, he says that one way to make a habit stick is to make it easy. As much as I like swimming, it has never seemed to be an easy option. Driving there, changing, getting dry and dressed afterwards, it makes it complicated. The reason I went last night though is because the way I’ve organised things it is actually now easier for me to go than to not go. It started a couple of months ago, I started to go swimming with my daughter. She has always loved being in the water. She is just about to sit her A level exams and is understandably stressed, so I’ve made it a point to build in this regular break for her. And while we go swimming my son cooks dinner for us which is a nice break for me. If I didn’t go swimming my daughter wouldn’t be happy so it is easier to go.

2)Just do a little.

Any exercise that you do above what you are currently doing is a bonus. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t feel like it’s a lot, or if it doesn’t leave you feeling breathless and sweaty. Sometimes it’s good to push yourself but if you are already feeling tired then just doing something is better than nothing. Last night I didn’t push myself, I didn’t really want to be there but as I said above it was easier to go than not to. Once I was in the pool, I ended up doing 24 lengths (it was cold and I had to keep moving), my daughter did 65, so I didn’t do much by comparison, but if I’d stayed at home I wouldn’t have done any.

3)Make it fun.

Children move all the time, using your body is fun. If you’ve ever watched a four-year-old listening to music they instinctively dance, moving their body to the rhythm, arms and legs everywhere. As we grow up we get told the “right” way to dance and play and it kind of takes the fun out of it. I recently borrowed an e-bike to see how I got on with it, thinking that I wanted to get fitter and reduce my petrol use. What I didn’t expect was how much fun I had on it. It really reminded me of when I was a child, I had a little blue bike that I used to spend hours just riding around the estate on. I am definitely going to carry on riding my bike and the great thing about the e-bikes is you can have all the fun of zooming down the hills without the slog of having to peddle up the next one. And going back to point 2 it doesn’t matter that I’m not doing the hard bit as it’s still more exercise than I would be getting in my car.

4)Make it part of everyday life.

This little but often way of putting more movement into our lives is so much more sustainable in the long term than any big gesture which is going to leave us feel exhausted. In atomic habits James says “if you can get 1 percent better each day for one

year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done”. The size of the change is not as important as the consistency with which you do it, so if we can just start move a little bit more everyday the rewards will eventually come.

Physical exercise is important for our minds and bodies and whether you do a little or a lot. I hope you have fun doing it.