The musings of a fourth year English medical student

Friday, 3 February 2017

EXERCISE & MENTAL HEALTH



Yesterday was Time to Talk day, which is aimed to raise awareness of mental health. This made me want to write about my own mental health and how exercise has played a role.

I was never a sporty person. I've never been on a sports team, competed in any way, nor have I wanted to. Exercise was never my mate until about a year ago.

As someone who has got through various mental health problems, I often wonder what were the key things I did to make myself better. I did many things: saw my GP regularly, took Sertraline for a year, saw a psychologist for a year, blogged, spoke to friends and family. AND I joined a new gym. 

This was not my first gym membership, but the first one that made a difference. I had been told that exercise can improve mental health, but that wasn't why I joined. Like most people I wanted to look better, never mind the physical or mental health benefits. I dodged all the mirrors and the scary male-dominated weights section. I worked until I was red in the face, gasping for air and sweaty as hell. Something about it was so therapeutic.

I eventually got into a routine, and went to the gym each week, 1-5 times depending on how I was feeling. On my darkest days, going to the gym seemed like the worst possible idea. But I started to notice that the days I went to the gym were the better days. In a small way, I had achieved something.

A year on, I'm still going to that same gym. Not only am I proud that I go, but I truly believe it has helped my mental health. I find that when I'm exercising, I don't have negative thoughts. I'm so fixated on the exercise that I don't feel sad or anxious. 

The gym isn't for everyone. I have lots of friends who are part of sports teams, but I've never joined one since coming to university. I've always been scared of putting myself out there, and I hate competing against people. I like that when I'm at the gym I don't have to worry about anyone else, I can do things at my pace; I can do what suits me. It's not about curling more than someone else, but seeing how I progress on my own.

I still go to the gym to look better, but also because I know I will feel better if I go. I also hope it will keep me in the good state of mental health I have right now. I'll let you know if it does!
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