Sports and Mental Health

Written by Lata Nobes

I have mostly thought of sport as something that wasn’t for me. At the same time, I’ve admired sportswomen and dancers for a long time, and been envious of the confidence they have with their bodies.

I suffer from anxiety and depression. Sometimes, for me, even getting out of bed is a very difficult task. Everything feels exhausting, difficult, and I feel that the chances of me achieving anything are hopeless.

When I was first prescribed anti-depressants a few years ago, my doctor told me that I was also being prescribed at least an hour of physical exercise one day a week. He said that I needed to do that alongside my antidepressants to get better.

Did I do the excersise? Of course I didn’t.

Why didn’t I do the exercise? Because it felt difficult. It makes me physically feel awful while I’m unfit. I felt more ashamed of myself for not having done any the previous week. It was a vicious cycle.

Lately, things have started to change for me. Being in lockdown has resulted in me stretching myself (literally!) in ways that I wouldn’t have before. I’ve been living with my brother, who does a daily workout. He started to tell me to join in with him every day, and at first I sniffed at the idea, and told him to *insert expletive here* off. But by the end of lockdown I had started to do a workout nearly once a week.

If I hadn’t had someone to encourage me to do it, there’s no way I would have found the motivation.

Since I’ve returned to work in Covid times, I have been avoiding the bus. The walk is half an hour - there’s no way I’d have done it before lockdown. And hurrah, I’m now walking to work. It’s the best part of my day. I enjoy the process of just walking. There’s nothing else that can be done in that time, so I don’t need to feel stressed or worried about other tasks. I am just getting from one place to another.

I’m telling you this tale, reader, because I could list reams of facts telling you how sports help mental health. You know this already. We all know this - it’s quite a well-known fact that exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy mind. Team sports, in addition, are great for forming support networks, forming values, and setting goals, particularly in young people.

But it’s not that easy to get up and do it. My brother has been away for 2 weeks, and I still haven’t managed to get myself to switch on some music and do the same work out I do with him. It’s really hard. But I know that I wouldn’t even have thought about it 6 months ago, and that is a massive achievement.

With the little exercise I’ve been doing, I feel better about my body. I feel more in touch with myself - that’s a weird thing to say, isn’t it? But when you feel bad about yourself, you can start to ignore the fact that you have a body. You can eat too much, or too little, and move as little as possible. Your body becomes a burden.

But doing just a little bit can make a big difference to that. Your mind is not disconnected from your body, and too often we pretend that it is. Now that I’m exercising, I’m also eating full meals, and taking an interest in them. I’m dressing better and starting to think more positively about myself.

What can you do relatively painlessly?

I’ve started playing music loudly while I brush my teeth, and dancing like an absolute idiot. I’m out of breath by the end. It’s an actual cardio workout. And I enjoy it.

Some tips that helped me get started:

1) Think about some things you could do that are part of your day to day life.

Are there activities you could stand up for instead of sit? I try to walk around more at work and during the TV adverts. Let’s face it, they’re boring. Why are you watching them anyway?

Could you walk to work? Or walk one bus stop further away when you’ve got a bit of a wait? Try walking to work, just once. Or walk some of the distance and bail if you get too tired.

2) Get a workout buddy. Someone who exercises anyway, who will be non-judgemental, but also forcefully encourage you to get out and do the workout. If she runs, get her to knock on your door next time. Or, ask a friend that doesn’t work out to start doing it with you. You can learn the ropes together, and stop each other from giving up.

Afterwards, you will feel so much better and more relaxed.

3) Dance.

If you like music, you’ll enjoy dancing. If you don’t have much of a sense of rhythm, you can look up easy dance videos on youtube. It’ll prepare you for occasions when you wish that you could dance with your friends, or that person that you really like. Dancing is an underrated life skill which will improve your quality of life, especially if you go to uni.

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