The social side of being active
Tim Almy is Director at Derby Counselling Centre, a charity offering an affordable counselling service. In a guest blog for us he tells us why he believes the social aspect of staying active is so important for mental health...
I am a cyclist. It is my passion, my Prozac. And yes, I do wear lycra! No, I am no Chris Froome but I just love to turn those pedals, hit the hills, and greet my fellow riders. The benefits of exercise are well documented but it is not just about feeding the inner endorphin-junkie.
Team sports, walking groups, exercise classes, etc. all give us the means and reason to connect, compare stats and strains, and share a joint endeavour. And it is this connection which, I believe, provides a pathway to positive mental well-being.
Too often today, mental health is medicalised and subjected to chemical treatments. We can be robbed of that vital capacity to reflect on ourselves and our life-stories. Effectively, what makes us us.
Yet talking to others about this and sharing how we feel seems to be undervalued. People are encouraged to be more inactive by the indoor delights of technology, a sedentary and sometimes solitary choice. This contributes to social isolation and its attendant mental health issues, as well as rising levels of obesity, at all ages, consequently eroding the quality of people's lives.
If all this sounds alarmist, a few simple facts can, I hope, show that exercise can make a difference. A regular cyclist has a fitness level 10 years younger than a non-cyclist. Regular exercise, of any sort, can lower blood sugar levels, a significant factor in type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure and exercise is, or should be, fun (fact).
Getting up early to cycle is my way to exercise and de-stress. To be part of the waking world, say hello to others, and recharge my mental batteries. But a walking group, chatting as they traverse the countryside, the aerobics class, the dog-walkers, and the gym-rats, can all benefit in their own ways.
I encourage my clients to exercise, to improve not just health but self-esteem. To enjoy being you. It is not enforced but I do believe that regular exercise, a healthy diet, and social interaction help you to respect yourself more. And no pill that I know of can do that.
You can find out more information about Derby Counselling Centre here