How can the stigma of exercise at school impacts your mental and physical health as an adult?
From a young age, we are led to believe that you fit into one of two categories: sporty or academic. This is normally decided on whether or not you are good at particular team sports played at your school. However, is that necessarily good for a child’s, or even an adult’s, relationship with exercise?
Whether you loved PE or not, I’m sure you can all think of a time when you begged your parents to write you a note to get out of it. Or failing that, got your mate to forge one in the changing rooms. But why was that?
For a lot of people, sports made them feel embarrassed or as though they weren’t good enough, because let’s be honest, the kids who were picked last never felt good about it and it could be quite humiliating for them. Because of this stigma, a lot of children who aren’t categorised as ‘sporty’ completely avoid sports from the moment they leave school. But how does this affect their mental health in the long run?
As a result, most young adults go on to one of the most overwhelming and stressful times of their lives with no form of natural stress relief, and they feel ‘afraid’ to go to the gym or to exercise. This results in around 60% of 18 to 24 year olds suffering huge amounts of stress and feeling under great pressure to succeed but becoming depressed and anxious about the next step in their life. This has increased with the boom in social media and the pressure to portray a brand from the age of 16, even though you haven’t even figured out who you are yet.
So how can exercise help this?
In the words of Elle Woods, the protagonist in the book/movie Legally Blonde (if you haven’t seen it, I’ll assume you have been living under a rock since 2001):
‘Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy and happy people don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t!’
Okay, so the last part is a little far-fetched, but you get the idea – exercise helps you feel level-headed and troublesome problems do not feel as detrimental any more. This is all thanks to endorphins – your mood will be lifted, pain feels less intense and seeing results to your waistline is an added bonus.
How did this help me?
I know it’s very easy to sit behind a computer and tell people the negatives of not doing something, so I thought I would share a bit of my experience.
When I moved to London at 18, like many young people I got swept up in the hectic day-to-day rush, with the after-work drinks and partying. But as a girl who used to exercise six times a week minimum from the age of about four, I started to see huge differences in my mood as a result of lack of exercise and eating clean. I felt like I didn’t have the time to exercise, and if I did, I was just exhausted! All I wanted to do was sit in my room and watch Netflix – we are all human, right?
However, this hibernation alone gave me the worst anxiety I have ever experienced and after nearly two years of literally being scared to walk out of the house alone, I put my trainers back on and tried to do the thing that had made me the happiest throughout my life: EXERCISE.
I am not going to pretend I just sprang back into action; in fact now, nearly four years later, I still struggle with anxiety and there are days I don’t want to get out of bed. But going for a run or just being outside helps lift my mood tremendously.
When I am running or at the gym, or even working out at home, I forget my anxiety, stress, whatever it is that is bothering me – because I set a goal and that is all I focus on. Whether it’s doing one more set or getting lower in a split, focus is key to a healthy mind and body. Also, it makes you feel a lot better to achieve something rather than sitting at home binge watching a season on Netflix. Along with this, the feeling of satisfaction after you have worked out is so rewarding. And you experience relief from tension and pain (whether it’s mental or physical), so it is one of the best things you can do for yourself in times of adversity.
For me, this is body strengthening or the gym, but it can be something as simple as getting outside and going for a walk – you don’t have to climb Everest to feel as though you have accomplished something! It’s about taking time for you, even it’s for 30 minutes a day.
Every movement you do will make your oxygen flow a little faster and each stretch will release a little more of that tension you are carrying. Look for your ‘tipping point’ (the moment you notice your mood change) because that is the moment you will start to look forward to exercising and will begin to enjoy it!