Neath Port Talbot residents are turning to exercise more frequently than people in any other part of Wales to help them improve their mental health during the Covid19 Pandemic.
According to a recent YouGov survey, over a third (37 percent) of those living in the area, said exercise has helped sustain or improve their mental health since the start of the pandemic. This is compared to 34 percent who are turning to exercise to boost their mood, nationally in Wales.
The findings come as the Welsh Government is encouraging people to ‘help us, help you’ by practising self-care and adopting small changes to help improve mental well-being, particularly at a time when levels of anxiety are higher than usual.
The traditional benefits of exercise have been to improve and maintain physical fitness but, more recently, the benefit of exercise to improve mental health has come to the fore. Not least with public figures like Joe Wicks doing his best to get the whole of the UK off its sofa more often. Exercise decreases stress hormones, like cortisol and increases endorphins, which are the body’s natural ‘feel-good’ chemicals, and when they are released through exercise, mood is boosted naturally.
Dr Sarah Collier, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Swansea Bay University Health Board, said: “We know that there are many benefits, both physical and psychological to taking part in regular exercise. As well as the release of ‘feel good’ hormones and endorphins, taking exercise can naturally help improve our mood, increase our self-esteem and confidence, help our thinking skills and reduce any symptoms of anxiety we may be coping with. Research tells us that exercise can be as powerful as taking an anti-depressant for some.
“With the advent of Covid-19 there are many ways now to connect with each other virtually to take part in exercise, and this of course is helpful because it can also help contribute to feelings of belonging and connection with other people which is also very important at a time like this.
“When we feel low or anxious, our natural tendency may be to withdraw and stop doing these things but then it is even more important to set goals to do them no matter how big or small to help ensure our wellbeing, starting small if this is new and building up gradually with advice from health professionals if we need.
“There are also many other things that we can do to help our mental health and wellbeing at this time including Silvercloud which is an on-line cognitive behaviour therapy self-help tool and Activate your Life, a video-based course based on the principles of acceptance and commitment therapy.
“Of course, there will be times when we may struggle with clinical levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health concern and some of us will need that extra helping hand. Here at Swansea Bay there are teams of health and social care professionals who can come alongside us to help us through. There is some information on our website in relation to this.
“We also know that some of us can get to the point of feeling unable to continue and we may feel actively suicidal- we cannot emphasise enough the need to urgently reach out to us if this is the case. There is always a way forward and people who can help.”
Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for exercising for free locally – whether that involves running or cycling along the waterfront, walking the dog in Gnoll Park, or taking advantage of free fitness classes from the LC or free mood-boosting yoga classes from Urban Zen via their Facebook pages.
Organiser of the JCP Swansea Half Marathon, David Martin Jewell, said: “It’s great to hear that people in Swansea are leaning upon the restorative and mood-lifting benefits of exercise to help get them through these unusual times. I hope this is something we can all maintain as part of our routines once life returns to its usual patterns. Regular exercise is one of the smartest investments you can make in your long-term health, both physical and mental and it can help give your day structure – another important way of supporting your mental health.”
Jen Harding, from Sketty in Swansea has discovered the value of regular exercise during lockdown. The mum-of-two says: “I have been dipping into some of the free exercise classes on offer on Facebook from Freedom Leisure, who run the LC in Swansea. I find them ideal for me because they are structured and I feel as if I am doing something as a group, even though I am taking part in my living room, so there is a sense of camaraderie and competition that motivates me. The classes have helped me carve out a bit of me-time in a very busy week of working and home-schooling, which has been good for my mental health. And I have now signed up to complete the Maggie’s 50 miles challenge, so I feel like I am doing my bit for others, locally, too.”
With more than £700m invested annually, The Welsh Government spends more on mental health than on any other aspect of the NHS.
For free advice and support on how to look after your mental wellbeing please visit Swansea Bay University Health Board’s page on local mental health support for adults, children and young people: https://sbuhb.nhs.wales/go/mental-health-support-during-covid/
Where to get help:
• If you are concerned about your mental health and would like confidential help and advice then you can call the CALL mental health listening and emotional support line which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 0800 132 737. Alternatively, you can text “help” to 81066 or visit callhelpline.org.uk. CALL can also signpost to support in local communities and a range of online information.
• SilverCloud is an online course which offers support for anxiety, depression, and much more, all based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Anyone aged 16 or over can sign up at nhswales.silvercloudhealth.com/signup/
• BEAT eating disorders helpline provides helplines and information for adults and young people, offering a supportive environment to talk about eating disorders and how to get help. Call 0808 801 0677 or visit www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services.
• The 'ACTivate Your Life' online video course shares practical ways to cope with thoughts and feelings causing distress and help live life with more confidence. To start go to phw.nhs.wales/activateyourlife
• If you are also supporting young people during this time, The Young Person’s Mental Health Toolkit links young people, aged 11 to 25, to websites, apps, helplines, and more to build resilience. You can access the toolkit at bit.ly/ypmhten