There is now no doubt that the health of our body impacts our mind, and vice versa. But what can we do to ensure that our mental health and mood have the best chance of feeling good? Here are 5 easy movements you can do on a regular basis to notice a big difference.
We are breathing all day, every day, but have you ever paid attention to your breath? By breathing deep down into your belly, and sighing out your mouth, you can bring about a sense of instant calm. Research shows that by breathing out for longer than you breathe in, the vagus nerve is stimulated, which can settle down our nervous system if you’re feeling stressed1. Try to breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds.
The magic number for walking seems to be 20 minutes to lift your mood2. This is great news for us who are time poor! Walking to the cafe and back, calling a friend or getting out on your lunch break are great ways to get this in your day.
Being in the water can be a positive experience for people with pain, giving a feeling of weightlessness and either warm or cool temperatures depending on where you choose to swim. The rhythmic, predictable, repetitive movement of swimming is also soothing for the mind and many people find that they can process thoughts, emotions, solve problems, or just daydream whilst doing something positive for their body.
The practice of yoga comes in many shapes and sizes, for many people and abilities. Multiple studies have shown that yoga has a positive impact on the sympathetic nervous system3, leading to feelings of calm and increased mood.
The last movement to try is a movement for your hand! Writing in a journal is therapeutic and can be helpful to clear your mind. Write as though nobody will ever read it! If you are unsure where to start, grab a blank page and start with “Today is <day> and I am…”
About the author
Jennifer Smallridge is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, writer and academic lecturer with 10 years of clinical experience. She particularly loves helping people to understand the “why” behind exercise. She has a special interest in pain and fatigue, and was a finalist for ESSA’s Exercise Physiologist of the Year in 2018. Her favourite type of exercise is dancing and walking her dog Barney.
- Vierra J, Boonla O, Prasertsri P. Effects of sleep deprivation and 4‐7‐8 breathing control on heart rate variability, blood pressure, blood glucose, and endothelial function in healthy young adults. Physiological Reports. 2022 Jul;10(13):e15389.
- Mammen G, Faulkner G. Physical activity and the prevention of depression: a systematic review of prospective studies. American journal of preventive medicine. 2013 Nov 1;45(5):649-57.
- Pascoe MC, Bauer IE. A systematic review of randomised control trials on the effects of yoga on stress measures and mood. Journal of psychiatric research. 2015 Sep 1;68:270-82.