10/09/2015 10:45 BST | Updated 02/09/2016 06:59 BST

Have I Exercised My Way to Mental Health?

When we think of exercise in society today we think predominately about the aesthetics!

Aesthetics have become the main reason people want to start exercising. I too, was guilty of this. When I weighed 25 stone, and was a fashion graduate, I was overwhelmed on a daily basis by images of 'perfect' models and wanted to be slim. However after losing the weight the reality of my aesthetic is that it's still not 'perfect'! Being depressed about being morbidly obese, and now a lifetime of insecurity and depression about my loose skin is an awful prospect!

But the truth is I'm the happiest and most confident I've ever been, people often remark about how I seem so much freer! I know it's not because I yet feel 100% confident about my body - so why do I feel this way?

I've quickly realised the hidden benefits that consistent exercise has on my day-to-day mood, the physical achievements I make outweigh my physical flaws! Was I actually exercising my way to a healthier mental state? This theory, for me, was further fueled when I met Hayley Jarvis, Community Programmes Manager for the Charity Mind. She told me about studies that support the idea that exercise could build self-esteem, and keep you mentally more balanced. It started me thinking - what about people that have never had a weight problem but suffered depression, anxiety and frustration - can exercise be beneficial to them too?

According to figures from Mind, in England, 2.6 people out of 100 suffer from depression and 4.7 out of 100 suffer from anxiety; but the figure for those suffering from a combined diagnosis of anxiety & depression is a whopping 9.7 out of 100; making this the most common mental disorder in Britain. These figures are alarming, so many of us seemingly will suffer from some degree of anxiety and/or depression in our lifetime.

Well as the human guinea pig I am, I can testify that when I've had a rough or emotional day, going to the gym and taking it out on the weights has drastically helped me! Biological exercise is proven to release endorphins - powerful chemicals in your brain - that boost your mood! According to the NHS, 'Exercise can help people with depression and prevent them becoming depressed in the first place.'

For me being active distracts me from worrying and lifts my mood. Exercise can sharpen brainpower by stimulating the growth of new brain cells, even boosting your immune system. I know my self-esteem has risen by meeting even small exercise goals! And when I've suffered insomnia short bursts of exercise have helped regulate my sleep patterns.

Overall I've increased my daily energy levels, and actually cope better when faced with mental or emotional challenges in my life!

Feeling Motivated?

Well then here are my top 5 workouts, and how they've helped me...

YOGA

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Yoga's mix of strengthening poses combined with steady-breathing exercises helps me find a state of tranquility allowing me to relax!

BOXING

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Boxing lets me vent any aggression without injuring myself or others, and its fun! I've been known on particularly bad days to go a few rounds!

HIIT

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I regularly do High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT workouts. Short but extremely intense programs aimed at exhausting your body, which allows me very little time to dwell on my stresses! I've done them before bedtime for sleep issues too!

DANCE

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Every Thursday is Bhangra Dance Class for me! You can go with friends or make new ones there... Trying a dance-class can be a needed social interaction, great exercise, and I always have 'Friday Night' fun!

WEIGHT TRAINING

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Weight training is my passion! The self-esteem boost I get when I successfully complete my heaviest set has yet to be matched by any other exercise routine I've done!

But even moderate physical activity such as gardening, walking the dog, and cleaning could be beneficial. According to PhD candidate George Mammen in the October 2013 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, even low levels of physical activity could ward off depression in all age groups. He says,

'It's definitely worth taking note that if you're currently active, you should sustain it. If you're not physically active, you should initiate the habit. This review shows promising evidence that the impact of being active goes far beyond the physical.'

Do you or someone you know suffer with depression or anxiety; check the websites MIND, and NHS for help and information.

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