Mental health benefits of exercise 'shouldn't be underestimated'

Ginny Greenwood at home doing one of her free pandemic pilates sessions

Ginny Greenwood at home doing one of her free pandemic pilates sessions - Credit: Archant

"It's not a cure but it clearly has a very positive impact on wellbeing." 

Ginny Greenwood MBE runs Exercise With Me, and has been doing her best to make exercise and good physical health accessible to as many people as possible since long before the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

But with the pandemic exacerbating the troubling rise in mental ill health, the West Hampstead woman has found running Zoom exercise classes over the past year a vital way of helping people young and old to keep themselves physically and mentally well. 

Ginny will be running a gentle early morning workout to kick off the Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health event on Friday May 21.

"Looking particularly at the situation we've been in for the last year with the pandemic, there's been a clear rise in mental health issues," she told the Ham&High.

"Older people have been feeling very isolated, younger people are feeling very isolated. It's been notable how young people are suffering from not being with friends at school, and having their lives turned upside down. 

"So this year, mental health has been on everyone's radar. It's well understood that exercise is good for mental health."

Ginny's classes tend to be based around Pilates, but she incorporates cardio and weights work and "movement to music". She said the best way of describing it was as a "full body workout based on the principle of balance". 

It's essential, she said, that exercise isn't intimidating, and she said her oldest regular class-member was aged 88. 

"Sometimes people think exercise means having to go on a treadmill," she added. "It doesn't have to be that. It can be quite simple things, and it's not something people have to be afraid of. Getting out in green spaces is good, and then if you can combine that with perhaps a skipping rope, that can be really beneficial." 

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She explained the benefits of exercise were multifaceted, adding: "Endorphins are a bit like a happy pill. And if you do group exercise then there's a feeling of being all in it together. 

"It can help with your metabolism, too - if you're sedentary you're likely to be putting on weight. There's the mental, there's the physical, and then there's helping how you feel about yourself.

"The mental benefits of just a bit of exercise on a regular basis can't be underestimated."

Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health has also received the support of Muswell Hill's The Laboratory Spa & Health Club, whose general manager, Seb Barre, said: “Here at the Laboratory we firmly believe that physical exercise is a vital tool in your mental health armoury, not only giving you countless physical health benefits but also psychological ones.

"The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week is nature and it’s positive impact on our mental health and being able to combine exercise with nature is a brilliant way of keeping on top of both your physical and mental wellbeing.  We are very lucky to have beautiful gardens at the Muswell Hill club for our members to enjoy but even if you do not have access to somewhere like the Lab, in London we are spoilt with an abundance of beautiful green spaces that are perfect for exercising in.  

"So whether it’s a walk in the park, a jog around the grounds of the palace, some tai chi self-practice or a yoga class in the Lab gardens, remember to take a moment to get active, breathe in your surroundings, and reconnect with nature.”

To see the full programme for Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health and sign up, visit Eventbrite.