Over the years, various research has shown that exercise can have a positive impact on our mental health. It is believed that physical activity causes chemical changes in the brain which can improve our mood, levels of self-esteem, confidence, and the relationship we have with ourselves.
Laura’s personal journey began two months before she turned 17, when her friend asked her to join a gym as he didn’t want to go on his own. Laura is one of Sport & Fitness’ class instructors – taking on classes like Body Attack, Pump and Tone – and she chatted to us about her relationship with mental health and exercise.
‘I went through the gym induction, got into my exercise programme, started to see my body changing, and I felt a lot less stressed! Within a few months I tried Body Combat and fell in love with the high energy! I loved it, it felt amazing and was different to my other training. I continued training throughout my A-Levels and university.
‘During my time at school I was bullied for being ‘overweight’. I had been playing sports at high levels since I was very young, and was much bigger built than other girls.
Going to the gym and classes gave me my confidence back, so much so that in my second year I studied and qualified as a group fitness instructor! I then trained in Body Combat and Body Pump, I loved them that much!
‘However, being bullied caught up with me mentally and I became obsessed with what I ate – and not in a good way. I started separating food on my plate during meals into the pile I will eat and the pile I will leave, and being very controlling over my calorie consumption. It took one of my instructors who asked me what was going on for me to realise something was wrong. It took a lot of retraining my brain and how I saw myself, which believe me was tough, and I still have moments now years later where the weight obsession creeps back.
The difference now is that I respect myself and understand through my years of training that it’s ok to have a little of what you like and to find balance in what you do.
‘My instructors helped me more than I realised at the time and exercise got me through some very dark times: the stress of revision and exams especially during my third year! Since then I’ve been teaching classes and I have grown so much as a person and a teacher because of my past. I’ve made it my mission to help others both physically, but especially mentally!
My biggest piece of advice from personal experience is that it’s OK to talk about how you feel, though it can be scary – know that we are here for you.
‘I want people to come to classes and enjoy some time for themselves, to walk away feeling like they can take on the world or if it’s my Pilates or Body Balance classes, feeling relaxed and strong inside and out. Whether it’s asking us to be a listening ear, or to direct you to someone who can help. Together we are stronger.’
If you want to find some help and support on campus, have a look at the different ways you can access the mental health and wellbeing offerings below.
If you or someone you know requires urgent mental health support, you should contact one of the following services: