Many of us know how good exercise is for physical health. But moving for your mind is just as important. That became crystal clear to me last year when I suffered a very serious knee injury.
It happened almost exactly a year ago. I was playing a game of touch footy with some six-year-olds as a local oval. One kid was heading straight for the try line and I ran to catch up with him. At the last minute he pulled up and I knew there were two options: I run straight into him or I attempt a Sally Pearson-style hurdle to jump over him. I chose the latter.
I landed badly.
With help, I hobbled off the field and iced my knee. I knew something wasn't right.
I went and saw a doctor and they were confident I hadn't damaged my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament). But unfortunately for them, and for me, that diagnosis was very wrong.
After some scans, my physio broke the news. I'd done my ACL, yes. But it was worse than that.
I'd ruptured my ACL, partly ruptured my MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament), torn my meniscus and fractured my femur. I needed to have surgery.
I've got to admit, I was pretty scared. I underwent surgery last year in May and that's when the hard work really began. The rehab and recovery.
I went from exercising multiple times a day to doing pretty much nothing. I was smashing my goals and training for a half marathon when my injury happened. I had big plans. But in a second, everything changed.
I can see now how important regular exercise and a training routine is for my mental health. Just after my injury happened, when I could do next to no exercise, I had so much time to think. I wallowed in self-pity. I was frustrated beyond belief. But once I got back into training, slowly but surely with my physio's guidance, I got determined. It felt so good to exercise again. Not just for my body but for my mind.
I thought my injury was going to be one of the lowlights of my year. But it turned out to be one of my highlights. I've learned so much, especially the benefits of exercise on your mindset.
Here's why exercise is so damn good for your mental health:
- First of all, science tells us it is
From personal experience, I know exercising is good for the mind. But science is also backing me up people. Exercise promotes the release of happy chemicals, called endorphins, in your brain. A recent study in the US has even indicated that exercise can help reduce the risk of depression. Australian Health Guidelines note you should get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day. But more vigorous exercise (where you're huffing and puffing) is recommended for better health and fitness outcomes.
- When you exercise, your mind is focused on one thing
Exercise, for me, has been huge in dealing with significant challenges. When my uncle died, I remember coming to the gym and doing a boxing session. Sweating it out really helped me.
When you're exercising, you're focusing on what you're doing. Not thinking about all the other external stresses and pressures in your life.
Of course, it doesn't make those things go away. But it can help change your focus, and maybe even give you some perspective.
- Exercise gives you a sense of accomplishment
Exercise, especially in the early stages of my rehab, really gave me something to be proud of. Whether it's smashing a PB, or getting to the gym on a day when you just want to stay in bed, they're something to be proud of.
For me, it was when I could first walk without crutches. It was when I went for my first jog. It was when I hopped for the first time. It doesn't seem like a lot, but it was something I was really proud of. And those wins had a huge impact on my mental health and my sense of self.
So, make sure you're allocating time, every day, to move your body or smash out a workout. It won't just be good for those muscles of yours. It'll be great for your mind too.
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