Exercise your mind

IN today's obesity-conscious age, the pressure is on all of us to keep fit and lose weight - but physical exercise is not just about fixing your figure.

By Tracey Sparling

IN today's obesity-conscious age, the pressure is on all of us to keep fit and lose weight - but physical exercise is not just about fixing your figure. In our latest Everyday Sport feature, features editor TRACEY SPARLING finds out how it can heal your mind too.

FEET tapping, hips swinging, the line dancers' eyes are downcast to check their steps - but for a moment their hearts and minds soar away over their troubles.

The line dancing session at East Suffolk Mind in Felixstowe is an example of how exercise helps your mental state. Members of Mind have had their crosses to bear, including depression, anxiety and even attempts at suicide, yet without exception they are quick to explain much how a simple session of dancing helps.

Taking a breather from the lesson, 66-year-old Beryl Turner who helped set up the exercise, told her story.

As a former police officer and education welfare officer, she was a professional woman who found her problems started when she retired. In her first years as a pensioner - which should have been her advent of freedom and leisure - she suffered anxiety and panic attacks.

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Beryl, from Valley Walk, Felixstowe, said: “When I was working I was doing busy jobs, so when I retired I missed the sense of structure a fulltime job brings. You ask yourself what there is to get up for in the mornings. A lot of people with mental health problems don't have the structure, and can get in to a depressive state. You have to have mental stimulation, as well as physical exercise.”

She added: “I started a singing group because it helps me and it helps others, and I also run an art group here. Exercise is also very important to me, and I love line dancing and water aerobics, and walking keeps everything going.

“I come here three days a week and it really is a lifeline for me.”

The centre also provides support for Dawn Fitch, who said: “I was very depressed, suicidal - this has opened the world up tome. I can come and go as I please.”

As well as line dancing, the 40-year-old from Chelsworth Road, Felixstowe said there are classes on assertiveness and anxiety management, creative writing, pottery, crafts, and Christmas dinner, lunches and barbecues. Members also take part in exercises like swimming, walking, water aerobics, and gardening and there was even a belly dancing demonstration.

On a more sedate level, there is also a photography club, a computer room and many more activities to try on a programme chosen by members every month.

Valerie Wills, 56 of Deben Way, Felixstowe has been attending Mind for four years after suffering a nervous breakdown. She used to work in an old peoples' home, cleaning and shopping for the residents.

She said: “Line dancing is a good exercise. You have to concentrate to remember the steps, so it is good for your mind as well as your body.”

Her face lights up, as she says she wants to help teach children to read in future.

Gina Nash and Bev Crickett, both from Felixstowe, enjoy Qi Gong (similar to Tai Chi) and walking when they visit Mind.

Gina said: “Qi Gong is a gentle exercise and it really works, it's very thorough. Even when you exercise sitting down you can get as much out of it, as when you are standing up.”

Bev, who walks with the help of sticks, added: “The breathing exercises help me a lot. Exercise does make me feel better. I have a three-year-old granddaughter, so I don't want to lose my mobility.”

Jean Potter, fundraising and promotion coordinator at East Suffolk Mind in Ipswich said: “We take a fun approach to healthy exercise - even walking and picnicking in the snow has been enjoyed by the most unlikely people. It creates a buzz and an enthusiasm within the centres which spills over into everything. But, most importantly, it gets us all thinking about how much better we feel when fun and exercise become part of our daily living.”

Two new surveys also reveal beneficial links between the body and mind.

Researchers at the University of Texas found just 30 minutes of brisk walking immediately boosted the mood of depressed patients, giving them the same quick pick-me-up they may be seeking from cigarettes, caffeine or binge eating. People suffering from depression who walked on a treadmill for 30 minutes reported feeling more vigorous and had a greater sense of psychological well-being for up to an hour after completing the workout.

The University of Washington found that regular exercise reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease by up to 40per cent. The Annals of Internal Medicine study found the more frail a person was, the more exercise was likely to help them. A regular gentle work-out for 15minutes three times a week, was enough to produce a positive effect.

For some people, exercise can become compulsive, to a degree which is as physically, psychologically and emotionally destructive as taking drugs.

David Nott, addictions manager at the Priory Hospital, said: "This isn't yet a common addiction but it is becoming increasingly recognised. There's cause for concern if people find their exercise regime disrupts their normal life - perhaps they spend more time at the gym than with their family.”

Weblink:

www.mentalhealth.org.uk

www.mind.org.uk

www.addictions.co.uk

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MIND resource centres are at Ipswich in Rosemary Lane 01473 230609, Felixstowe at The Caretakers House, 29 High Road West 01394 276909, Saxmundham at The Willows, Station Approach 01728 604011 and Stowmarket at 69 Ipswich Street 01449 676337.

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When we exercise, our brains release 'feel-good' hormones called endorphins, along with serotonin and adrenaline, which stabilise mood and deal with depression and anxiety.

Levels of endorphins, serotonin and adrenaline, will stay elevated after exercise so the feel-good feeling remains long after you have finished your workout.

Top British athletes have given some words of encouragement, for the Mind charity:

Paula Radcliffe, New York marathon winner 2004 and world record holder, said: "Always set yourself a goal and work steadily towards it as this helps with motivation. Train with a group of friends to help encourage each other through the tough spots."

Chris Newton, double Olympic medallist, cycling team, Athens 2004, said: “The beauty of riding a bike is that no matter what your ability is you can try as hard or as easy as you like and still get a sense of achievement that your exercising your mind as well as your body."

Jason Gardener, Olympic gold medallist 4x100m relay, Athens 2004 said: "The hardest part is motivating yourself to get up and go to the track, gym or park but once you are there you will soon find that you enjoy exercise and gain satisfaction from doing so."

Stephen Parry, Bronze Olympic medallist swimming team, Athens 2004 said: “Whatever you want to achieve you need to believe in yourself, be committed and be prepared to fail before you can be prepared to succeed. The night before I won my bronze medal in Athens I went to bed for the first time thinking I could win the gold medal and while I was disappointed I did not win gold, if I had not thought I could achieve what I wanted to, then the chances are I would have not."

Everyday Sport is Sport England's project to get us all doing an extra burst of exercise during our daily routine. The campaign is all about small steps making a big difference. Everyday Sport can mean different things to different people, from taking the stairs instead of the lift or getting off the bus a stop early to joining a sports club or registering for an exercise class. Sport England aims to increase participation in sport and physical activity by three per cent in the next three years. See www.everydaysport.com.