BY Sara de Nova

I know everyone’s heard a million times, whether from fitness magazines or fitspo Instagram accounts, that exercise has numerous physical and mental benefits. But what if you started to look at exercise as something you exclusively did for your brain? Forget the physical BS, the gym standards, the fear of running in public, the #gymselfies and the #activewear.

3 years ago, I sat in my psychologist’s office as she asked me about how often I exercised. I told her I liked running but could rarely find the energy these days. She challenged me to get out of the house each day for 30 minutes. She told me to walk, skip, jump, run whatever the hell took my fancy. She just wanted me out and moving. Anyone who’s found themselves in a slump, crippled with stress or with a mental illness can understand that finding the energy to get out and exercise every day is a big ask. Yet that piece of advice is the best I have ever been given.

Exercise improves your headspace. Whether my day’s gone terribly or fantastically I always give myself an hour to myself. Heading out for a run can shake the anxiety from my body. With each step I can feel the stress, the pent-up frustration, any anger or sadness from my day fall from my body. Some days it’s an hour that clears my head and distracts me from rumination. On other days it’s an excuse to see pretty winter sunsets, listen to some cranking tunes or a podcast or to spy on cute dogs on their walks.

The most important thing exercise gave me, was a sense of control. During university life, there are so many things that feel completely out of your control; your future, your relationships, your degree. Trying to take control of something as intangible as my mental health in the context of everything else felt really hard. Giving myself an hour each day to do something purely physical and solely for me gave me a renewed sense of control over my wellbeing. Being able to see tangible improvement in my fitness and health gave me control over my own body and mind.

Exercise doesn’t have to be just another thing you ‘should’ do. It doesn’t have to be about the journey to your ‘dream body’. Exercise can be your time alone or your time to socialise, your break from work or study, your chance to get outside for the day, your chance to appreciate the wondrous ways in which your body can move. Choose something you enjoy, whether it’s a walk, run, swim, sweaty session at the gym, team sport, dance. If you can push yourself through the initial physical pain of when you first start to exercise until it becomes part of your routine, your mind will thank you later.

It’s well known that exercise boosts production of those feel good endorphins in the brain. It’s known to improve memory, learning, sleep, concentration and boost energy levels.

So if you can, get movin’ ‘n shakin’.

I write this understanding that I’m lucky enough to have the privilege of being able bodied and the luxury of having enough free time to block out an hour for exercise each day.

**Disclaimer: I am by no means a mental health or even exercise expert but these people are: https://blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/default-source/factsheets/exercise_depression.pdf **