This is a guest blog from FLexercise. You can find more about FLexercise here.

We asked Claire Ballardie, our newly appointed Mental Health Lead for FLexercise, to share some of her thoughts on World Mental Health Day. Sometimes we all need a little reminder about looking after ourselves and today seemed a great opportunity to do just that.

Claire is a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist, holding a BACP Diploma in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy. She works in her own practice and for Wiltshire Mind. She is a Reiki master and dressage instructor. Finally, after first trying a class at the age of 11 with her Mother, Claire has been an FLexercise teacher for 17 years!

How and why is exercise good for you?

How many of us suffer from anxiety or depression? These are the most common mental issues that are faced. Exercise relieves stress and tension by releasing the ‘feel good’ hormones or endorphins, which gives a sense of calm and lifts your mood.

Exercise can be a more effective treatment for mild to moderate depression than taking medication. Exercising three times a week can reduce the risk of depression by up to 20%.

As well as improving your energy levels and improving sleep and digestion, exercise helps you to feel positive about yourself and increase your self-esteem. The sense of achievement increases self-worth and lifts your mood, reducing stress and improving resilience to life events.

Learning how to stretch and relax your body also calms the mind. Controlled breathing and focusing mindfully on how you are moving, helps prevent a ‘busy brain’ from worrying about day-to-day concerns. Music is a great way to lift your mood and brings a sense of enjoyment to getting fitter. Improving co-ordination improves concentration and dexterity.

Exercising alone?

Inspiration can be a challenge if you exercise alone. It is all too easy to say ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. So joining a class is a great way to get that motivation and meet new friends. The social aspects of coming to a class are just as important as the physical ones and if you enjoy exercise, you are more likely to make it a regular part of your lifestyle.

Making exercise part of your daily life, combined with eating sensibly contributes to a long, healthy life and challenges the stigma of mental health.

So, if you know someone who may benefit from coming to an FLexercise class, but feels intimidated by taking that first step, offer to bring them along. You never know, you may make a new friend.

Our colleagues at EMD UK have been conducting their own research into the positive effects of exercise.

The 2015 Participant Survey, conducted by EMD UK and YouGov, found that 93% of people agreed that attending dance fitness classes helps to relieve stress. One participant, Michaela, said, “The classes release tension after a long day at work; I sleep better, eat better and generally feel better in myself.”

Does exercise have to be hard work?

No! Although tough HIIT and athletics programmes may be necessary or enjoyable for some people, a gentler approach to exercises can be just as fun. 90% of participants think dance fitness classes are fun, with one participant, Lou, saying “As long as you move around a lot, and have fun, you’re doing the right thing!”.

Exercise for helping cope with workplace anxiety

Workplaces are becoming increasingly stressful environments, with more people suffering with depression and/or anxiety. Work load pressures were identified as the main factors causing work related stress in the 2016 Labour Force Survey report .Pressures included tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.

Therefore, the workplace is a great area to start building a more positive mental outlook. Recognising this,  EMD UK has created a Workplace Health Initiative, in partnership with mental health charity Mind. Delivered over a number of weeks,  the programme gives employees regular exercise and mental well being sessions. Post-programme, workplaces are encouraged to continue improving the health of their employees and are given access to Mind resources to implement in everyday office life.

World Mental Health Day reminds us all that we should take our mental wellbeing as seriously as our physical wellbeing. There are small steps we can take every day to achieve positive mental health, and group exercise classes, like FLexercise, are a great place to start.

For further details, go to www.mind.org.uk