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How to Use Exercise to Look After your Mental Health

Did you know that in March 2020 (right around the time lockdown restrictions were announced), the amount of mental health-related PBS prescriptions dispensed increased dramatically? This comes as no surprise: With isolation, decreased interaction and opportunities for exercise, and stress associated with income loss and health concerns, it’s been a rocky year for the state of Australians’ mental health.

Over a year later, we’re still feeling the effects – particularly in Sydney, where increased lockdown measures were announced in late July, then extended for at least another month in August.

If you’re experiencing mental health challenges during this time, you’re not alone. A recent survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 1 in 5 Australians reported high or very high levels of distress, with spikes closely linked to outbreaks and lockdowns.

How lockdown affects your mental health

According to the medical research institute, Black Dog Institute, some of the most common psychological consequences of the pandemic include:

  • Anxiety and panic
  • Depression
  • Anger and frustration
  • Stress
  • Post-traumatic stress symptoms
  • Confusion
  • Uncertainty

They note that these symptoms shouldn’t always necessarily be treated as mental health disorders. Many people will naturally return to a balanced state once the pandemic is resolved – but unfortunately, no one can say when that day will come.

Black Dog Institute also notes that in many cases, practical non-psychological health can be the best way of reducing the mental health burden. This includes things like eating healthily, cutting down on alcohol, getting enough sleep, connecting with loved ones, and getting more exercise.

How does exercise improve your mental health?

When you exercise – even for as little as ten minutes per day – a range of reactions take place inside your body and brain that can lead to an overall sense of wellbeing.

This is what people refer to as a ‘cyclist’s high’ or a ‘runner’s high’. It’s that buzz you feel when you’re in the zone, and the rest of the world melts away.

In fact, some even call it an exercise-induced altered state of consciousness, akin to meditation or being in a trance state.

Beyond the immediate feel-good effects of exercise, it also has long-lasting effects that improve your mental health:

What exercise is best for improving your mental health?

Although everyone has an opinion on what kind of exercise is best (you can probably guess what we think), experts seem to agree on one thing: The perfect exercise for you is whichever one you’re able to stick to.

Everyone has off days, but if you find yourself constantly dreading your workout routine, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll finally give up on it and never return.

While the current lockdown restrictions limit the types of exercises you can do, there are ways to work with the restrictions and exercise at home or in your neighbourhood.

Running

Running is one of the easiest exercises to get into: Simply go outside or hop on a treadmill and go for it! While it’s great for improving cardiovascular function and chasing the famed runner’s high, it’s a high-impact exercise that can be hard on your body.

Every time your foot hits the ground, the impact is equal to 5 – 12 times your body weight, (depending on your speed and form) so running probably isn’t for you if you have problems with your back, knees, or ankles.

Yoga

Yoga likely conjures up images of cross-legged hippies, but did you know that there are many different types of yoga – including crossover styles mixed with weights or HIIT (high-intensity interval training)?

While yoga is often recommended for everything from back pain to mindfulness, yoga studios aren’t able to operate during lockdown. This is unfortunate for newcomers because one of the biggest dangers of yoga is improper form (which can, in turn, exacerbate injuries and cause new ones).

If you’re a complete beginner or have existing injuries, you should take it slowly or sign up for online classes where the instructor can see you and correct your form.

Cycling

Getting into cycling is as easy as learning to ride a bike – anyone can do it!

Along with being a low-impact sport that makes it ideal for those with injuries, you can choose to ride solo or join a (currently virtual) cycling community to enjoy the social aspect of cycling.

Whether you want to start training for an event or just want a fun way to commute to work, the only person who controls the intensity of your ride is you – making it the perfect exercise to adapt to your fitness level and goals.

Cycling can cause lower back pain if you ride with poor posture, but the most common dangers associated with cycling aren’t to do with the sport at all. In fact, the biggest dangers are road conditions and motorists.

It’s vital to ensure you’re always visible while riding and, if you’re new to cycling, get comfortable with quiet spins around your neighbourhood before taking on busier roads.

To help keep you and your new bike safe, we’re offering cyclists in Sydney free, no-obligation insurance for their new bike for 30 days if you purchase your bike and live in (and your new bike is normally stored in) Sydney area*.

Some of our insurance coverages in the complimentary Velosure Premium Bicycle cover include:

  • Cover for theft from and away from home
  • Cover for accidental damage
  • Transit cover
  • Bicycle rack cover
  • Personal accident cover

Certain benefits are not offered under the complimentary 30 days policy. If you have purchased a bicycle between $1,000 and $30,000 (including the GST), you can activate it by clicking here

If you have any questions, please call us on 1300 83 5678, or email us at [email protected] *Eligibility criteria apply. You should read the Terms and Conditions of this offer which can be found here.

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