THIS week is Mental Health Awareness Week, the theme is ‘Movement: Moving More for our Mental Health.’

We all know the importance of taking care of our physical health, but the connection between movement and mental well-being is often overlooked. Getting your body moving is a powerful tool for boosting your mood, managing stress, and improving your overall sense of well-being.

* The Body-Mind Connection

Our bodies and minds are not separate entities; they’re intricately woven together. When we move, we trigger a cascade of chemical reactions in the brain, releasing a cocktail of neurotransmitters and hormones that have an impact on how we feel. So, without wishing to turn this week’s column into a science lesson, I thought this would be the perfect week to explain a few of them to you.

* Endorphins: Often referred to as our “natural painkillers,” endorphins have a two-pronged attack. They not only reduce physical pain but also elevate our mood. Think about that post-workout high you experience after a brisk walk or a fun dance session. That’s the power of endorphins at play. They bind to opioid receptors in the brain, creating a sense of euphoria and reducing our perception of stress and discomfort.

* Serotonin: This neurotransmitter is a major player in regulating mood, sleep, and appetite. When serotonin levels are low, we can experience symptoms like anxiety, depression, and difficulty sleeping. Regular physical activity acts like a natural antidepressant, increasing serotonin production. This can lead to feelings of calmness, improved focus, and a more positive outlook.

* Dopamine: Ever feel a surge of motivation or a sense of accomplishment after completing a task? That’s dopamine at work! This neurotransmitter is closely linked to reward, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. Physical activity triggers the release of dopamine, giving us a sense of accomplishment and boosting our motivation to keep moving. This can help us develop healthy habits and improve our overall well-being.

* Norepinephrine: Feeling foggy-brained and struggling to concentrate? A brisk walk or some light exercise might be just what you need. Norepinephrine helps with alertness, focus, and concentration. By increasing norepinephrine levels in the brain, physical activity can sharpen our mental edge and improve cognitive function.

The benefits of movement extend far beyond the release of feel-good chemicals. Here are some additional ways getting active can improve your mental health:

* Stress Reduction: Physical activity is a natural stress reliever. Exercise helps to lower cortisol levels, the body’s stress hormone. When we move, we can release pent-up tension and frustration, leading to feelings of calm and relaxation.

* Improved Sleep: Regular exercise can significantly improve sleep quality. Physical activity helps us fall asleep faster, sleep more soundly, and wake up feeling more refreshed. Better sleep, in turn, contributes to improved mood, better focus, and increased energy levels.

* Self-Esteem Boost: When we engage in physical activity and see our bodies becoming stronger and more capable, it can lead to a boost in self-confidence and self-esteem. This sense of accomplishment can empower us and motivate us to reach our goals in other areas of life.

* Social Connection: Participating in group fitness classes, joining a sports team, or simply going for a walk with a friend can be a great way to connect with others. Social interaction is a crucial aspect of mental well-being, and movement can provide a fun and healthy way to build strong social connections.

* Finding what works for you

The beauty of incorporating movement into your life is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The key is to find activities you enjoy and that fit into your lifestyle.

* Start Small: Don’t feel pressured to jump into an intense workout routine. Begin with small, manageable steps, like taking a 10-minute walk during your lunch break or dancing to your favourite tunes for a few minutes each day.

* Find Activities You Enjoy: Explore different activities like swimming, yoga, dancing, hiking, or team sports. The key is to find something you genuinely enjoy, so you’re more likely to stick with it in the long run.

* Make it Social: Join a fitness class, grab a friend for a walk, or sign up for a well-being session. Moving with others can add an element of fun and accountability.

* Focus on Progress, Not Perfection: Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results overnight. Celebrate every small victory and be patient with yourself. The most important thing is to keep moving and find ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.

If you are in any kind of mental health crisis please see your GP, go to A&E, call the Samaritans on 116 123 or text SHOUT to 85258

* Martin Furber is a therapist qualified in various modalities, and an Instructor Member of Mental Health First Aid England