Exercise is good for your brain, as well as your body

Gym exercise

For those of us whose busy lives always accommodate a healthy whack of exercise on the daily, it can often be felt long before you’re even told by “experts”. For those who don’t, it doesn’t matter who you ask, but you’ll fast learn that exercise equals mental happiness and clarity, according to clinical psychologist Emma Spencer.

We spoke to Emma about all things exercise and just why it’s so good and it turns out, there’s more to it than just going for a run…

Drew Harrisberg Fitbit Ionic running

There’s no denying exercise and its merits have been around for decades, but why is it so big now?

Over the last two decades there has been an increase in interest and accessibility of research related not only to exercise, but healthy living itself. Further, the last decade has seen shows such as ‘The Biggest Loser’ gain popularity as well as documentaries related to healthy lifestyle including ‘That Sugar Film’ and ‘Forks Over Knives’. Although these aren’t related to exercise per se, their focus is on making healthy lifestyle choices. People are seeing the value in exercise and experiencing it’s benefits and are making it a priority for themselves.

How has exercise helped YOU?

Working out at gyms has helped me in managing the stress of being a working mother. Feeling physically fit and healthy also promotes positive self-esteem which has allowed me to make life changing decisions such as starting my own business. The self-confidence it has promoted has allowed me to see my worth and not be held back by self-doubt.

Tell me what sort of movement constitutes ‘exercise’

This is very individual and depends on the physical need of the individual. For some people a gentle walk is all that they can achieve or all that they require. Other’s prefer to focus on yoga or pilates. Any movement can be considered exercise, but what you would want to be seeing is an experience of physical exertion so that you would be sweating a little and feeling that some effort is required to complete the movement.

Women running

What tips do you have to push yourself during exercise?

Some helpful tips to push through during exercise is to have a plan for that particular session (e.g. I will walk for 30 minutes, I will complete a 45 minute group exercise class, I will swim five laps of the pool freestyle) and just focus on completing that – rather than engaging with the thoughts that come up.

Accepting that achieving your goal will involve some discomfort and focussing on completing it is paramount. It is important at the outset that you are exercising because it is important to you, so often identifying these reasons and reminding yourself of them during a “session” can be motivating.

Finally, I have a mantra that I remind myself of when I am feeling the urge to “quit” during a planned exercise session. Mantras can help keep us focussed and remind us of why we have chosen to engage in the activity. My mantra is “I am a fit person and I do fit things.” My PT is aware of this and reminds me of it when I need it.

What are the top three extraneous variables that contribute to the success of exercise for overcoming mental darkness?

I don’t have the “top” three extraneous variables as this is likely to be different depending on the research paper being consulted. However, three very important variables would be:

  • The support network you have around you,
  • That you are setting realistic expectations of your exercise targets, and
  • That you have completely bought into and are committed to your plan.

Gym yoga exercise

People posting their gym/exercise/fitspo shots on social media – good for mental wellbeing or bad?

Social media has its advantages and disadvantages and it always comes down to how it’s being used.

For instance, if you’re using social media to motivate yourself and to connect with like minded, then it’s a very positive experience. However, if you’re comparing your body and your achievements to others and beating yourself up for “not being good enough”, this of course would not be motivating or healthy at all.

It comes down to choice – it’s up to each individual as to whether they create a platform that is positive or negative of themselves. A great social media rule to follow is only follow those who add value to your life and inspire you in a positive way. And remember, this looks different for everyone.

Why did you dedicate yourself to fitness and healthy mental wellbeing?

Personally, I am committed to staying physically and mentally fit so that I am giving my family and friends my best.

In a professional capacity, I have always been an individual who has been motivated to support others and this drew me to study psychology. After years of practise I have become even more passionate and dedicated to supporting others to achieve an optimum quality of life. Before we can be mentally well we must be physically well, and exercise is one of the cornerstones of this – the other two being nutrition and sleep.

Find out more about exercise and mental health at Vision Personal Training.

Gym yoga exercise tree pose