Mental Health

Active young family enjoying bike ride

Q. I’m a 43 year old mum of three, who works full-time. I suffer from mild depression but find that when I get active and exercise, I feel both physically and mentally better. However, I find it hard to make the time to exercise, so can you recommend any steps I can take to help me stick to some type of exercise routine?


Making time for a regular exercise routine is something that a lot of people struggle with. But as you’ve mentioned, getting active is not only good for your body, it’s great for your mind too. Research has shown that when you exercise you release brain chemicals (endorphins and dopamine) that boost your mood and self-esteem. Exercising also increases the blood flow to the brain, which helps people get a better night’s sleep and concentrate better at work. Aside from the obvious benefits of reducing chronic disease and maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise also has a direct affect on the section of the brain that controls motivation and stress levels.

Aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming, cycling and dancing have all been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. Of course, if you are suffering from any type of mental health problems, you should make an appointment to see your doctor before undertaking a new fitness regime.

Studies have shown that exercising can decrease depression and alleviate symptoms more quickly than medication. An eight week study carried out by Fabien Legrand and Jean Philippe Heuze from the University of Reims and Joshep Fourier University found that people who exercised for 30 minutes a day 3 – 5 times a week showed a decrease in symptoms of depression. The study also found that people who exercise with others in a social setting also experienced an improvement in their symptoms of depression.  Interestingly, doctors in the US, (including Dr. Madhukar H. Trivedi, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre in Dallas), increasingly recommend physical exertion before prescribing medication to patients suffering with mental health issues.

One of the best things about getting active is that it costs little or no money. You don’t have to have a gym membership or spend a lot of money on gym gear or accessories. It’s as simple and straightforward as getting out for a walk in the fresh air or finding the right activity for you and your family. In the clinic, we find that people are more inclined to stick to their exercise routine if it’s an activity that they feel comfortable with and enjoy – ideally, something that fits into their daily life. We recommend that people do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 3 – 5 times a week and the sessions can be split up into three sections of 10 minutes or two sections of 15 minutes.

I appreciate that you are a busy mum of three, who works full-time, so your exercise regime needs to be practical and fit in with your lifestyle and work and family commitments. Activities and exercises that include all the family are a great way to get everyone in the house active, as well as spending quality time together. Fun activities and exercises such as walks on the beach, a hike in the park or going to the pool are a great way to get your endorphins going and the whole family will feel the benefit. It’s worth noting that a study carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland in 2013 found that one in five young Irish adults aged 19-24 and one in six young people aged 11-13 were experiencing mental health problems. Encouraging the whole family to get more active by getting outdoors is a great way to ensure that they, and you, remain physically and mentally strong. I would encourage anyone interested in finding out how exercise might benefit their mental well-being, to give the clinic a call on 074 91 11010.

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Johnny Loughrey MISCP





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