Exercise for your mental health

Regular gym-goers are familiar with the "natural high" brought on by a solid exercise session.

You leave the gym sweaty, but fulfilled, feeling happier, more relaxed and miles away from thoughts of your cranky boss, demanding job or busy family life.

Research has long shown exercise is a simple remedy for stress and depression - and now the medical world is starting to take notice.

Flinders exercise physiologist Kim Allsopp regularly works with GPs and psychiatrists treating clients with depression.

He devises fitness regimes to complement patients' mental health care plans, encouraging people to consider exercise as a critical part of their treatment.

The Black Dog Institute is also campaigning for exercise as a stress relief through its Exercise Your Mood scheme, running through September.

Kim Allsopp encourages patients to see exercise as a critical part of the treatment for depression. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Kim Allsopp encourages patients to see exercise as a critical part of the treatment for depression. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Mr Allsopp said exercise was an ideal way for people to deal with stress, offering them a healthy outlet from the worries of everyday life.

"It really allows people to take their mind off things," he said.

"Often people with depression are struggling with their weight and feeling bad about themselves and it can just be a downhill spiral; exercise gives them short-term success - they can go for a walk and know they've achieved that.

"It might take a psychologist some time to help them make long-term mind-set changes, but exercise allows them to get results straight away."

Many of Mr Allsopp's clients are desperately in need of some "me" time. He often sees parents struggling to find balance in their lives, or young couples who are finding it difficult to cope with the pressures of work, owning a home and managing their finances.

Exercise is sold as an activity to ease stress and give them a sense of command over their life - and they soon see the benefits.

"A lot of time my clients are struggling just to keep their head above water but with a bit of regular exercise, you can see the effect on their psyche," Mr Allsopp said.

"They are more relaxed, happier and their self-confidence is often increased - they have that sense of 'look at what I've achieved'."

To have an impact on stress levels, exercise regimes don't have to include marathon running and epic gym sessions. Mr Allsopp subscribes to the philosophy of "just do it", encouraging people to simply get out and work out.

"It's just about physical activity and seeing exercise as a part of life," he said.

"I see it as a whole body movement - whether it's walking, swimming or riding, they just need to move as much as possible."

Planning exercise is critical, along with creating specific, measurable goals that are realistic to achieve.

Mr Allsopp recommends beginners start working out with a friend or family member and engage in activities they enjoy.

"You need something that's going to be a good distraction from the daily stress and something you're going to want to do," he said.

"It's not necessarily about weight loss - a lot of people don't want to look like a catwalk model, they just want to get a pep in their step, feel good and do something for themselves."

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