How exercise can benefit the mental health of busy women

Did you know that in England women are more likely than men to have a mental health problem and are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders?

I recently read the book “Rushing Women’s Syndrome”, by Dr Libby Weaver. Rushing Women’s Syndrome “describes the biochemical effects of always being in a hurry and the health consequence that urgency elicits. It’s not a medical diagnosis but a title that reflects the changes happening in women’s lives today.” There are many physiological impacts of being in this heightened state of rush (on your nervous system, endocrine system, hormones and bowels) but there are obvious mental health consequences too.

Here are just a handful of the characteristics Weaver lists as typical for someone with Rushing Women’s Syndrome:

  • Often feels overwhelmed;
  • Can’t sit down as feels guilty unless she is beyond tired;
  • Answers ‘so busy’ or ‘stressed’ when asked how she is;
  • Tends to crave sugar;
  • Has a to-do list that is never completed; and
  • Finds it difficult to relax without alcohol (which leads to increased body fat, cellulite, less energy and mood fluctuations).

Can you relate to any of these characteristics?

Obviously not all mental health issues derive from being ‘busy’. But so many women fall into this category. There are, of course, many ways to help counteract mental health issues, but exercise is often at the top of that list.

What type of exercise?

Our bodies benefit from both cardio workouts and restorative workouts. Cardio workouts can help us lose weight, feel confident and raise our self-esteem. However, if we incorporate too much cardio it can stress the body, which in turn raises our cortisol levels and causes our body to retain weight around our mid-section.

Restorative workouts help to calm the system down. Conscious breathing is crucial to restore calm. It is key to making the shift in your chemistry, including reducing stress. Focusing on your breathing during a yoga class, a ballet fitness class, or any other restorative workout, can help us to tap into our autonomic nervous system, which controls relaxation/sense of calm.

Exercise promotes a mind/body connection

Adding a mindfulness element to your workouts means that you are not only improving your physical condition, but you are interrupting a flow of constant worry. It enables you to ‘switch off’ and reconnect with your body. Your focus is taken away from obsessive thoughts, feelings of panic and overwhelm and instead is targeted towards your balance, movement and breath.

Exercise can alleviate depression

Exercise stimulates chemicals called endorphins that improve your mood. It pumps blood to the brain, which improves memory and helps you to think clearly. Studies also show that exercise can treat depression and anxiety because it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain. It acts as a distraction.

Exercise helps you sleep better

Making exercise part of your regular routine can aid a better night’s sleep, which boosts your mood. It improves the quality of your sleep because it increases the amount of time you spend in the deep sleep phase and increases the duration of your sleep because it expends energy and makes you feel tired and ready to rest. In addition, because exercise reduces stress and anxiety (which are common causes of sleepless nights), you have a better chance of falling asleep with ease and having a restful night.

Ballet for your brain

Ballet is a wonderful “in the moment” activity and women I teach often comment that they have spent an entire hour not thinking about anything else, other than how their body is moving. Worries that were hanging over them before class lift and they leave feeling far more resilient and in control. In addition, the classical music that is used can help to lower blood pressure, induce relaxation and reduce anxiety.

I was feeling all nervous and unproductive this afternoon thinking about the new job. So I took myself off and did some of your workouts, and it really helped me get focused so I could go back to my reading. So just wanted to say thank you!” Ruth

So, if you are a busy woman (possibly with ‘Rushing Women’s Syndrome’), or someone who suffers with anxiety, make sure you are incorporating the right exercise into your routine on a daily basis. It doesn’t need to be for long periods of time. A 15-minute workout can really make a difference and shift you up a gear when you are feeling low.

Sarah is the founder of Breaking Ballet, a unique fitness course using classical technique. Click here to find out more.


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