Illustration of a woman exercising in her house
 Illustration of a woman exercising in her house

Managing your mental health – the importance of looking after your physical health

There are a range of measures people with existing mental health conditions can put in place to support their health and wellbeing through the COVID-19 pandemic. This article looks at the importance of looking after your physical health.

These are emotionally challenging times for all of us.

One of the ways we can look after our mental health is to make sure we are as physically healthy as we can be.

Regular exercise plays a huge role in keeping us mentally well.

It releases ‘feel-good’ chemicals like dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, helping to improve mood and reduce stress.

And while our usual methods of physical activity may be temporarily unavailable there are still ways to stay active.

If you usually go to the gym, try adapting your workout for home or use one of the many free exercise classes online.

Walking is also a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, stay fit and boost our immune system so we’re less susceptible to infections.

Provided you practice physical distancing and stay the appropriate distance apart from other people, a brisk daily walk is good for the body and mind.

Psychologist Sabina Read said spending time outdoors, where it’s safe to do so, is important.

Even if you can just sit on your balcony or in the garden or the back yard – try to get outside every day,
she said.

Step outdoors and feel the fresh air on your face. You don’t have to go far – even a walk around the block can be helpful,
she said.

The World Health Organisation recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or a combination of both.

But any activity is better than none.

And in these unusual times, you might want to get creative with how you stay active – dance to your favourite songs in your lounge room, climb stairs or spend more time playing with pets or children.

You can also reduce your sedentary time by standing up whenever possible – aim to interrupt sitting time every 30 minutes.

Finding ways to calm your nervous system is another important pillar of staying healthy and slowing down a racing mind.

You might want to practice yoga and pilates using one of the many free online classes, or download a meditation or deep breathing app to help you stay grounded.

Try to maintain a healthy diet, resisting the temptation to binge on junk food or sweet treats.

While the occasional serve of comfort food is fine, a diet high in fat, salt and sugar is likely to aggravate anxiety and weaken your immune system.

It’s also important to avoid drugs, seek support to quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake as excessive drinking can impair your sleep and make it harder to cope with stress.

Follow the links below for more information on the other key measures Beyond Blue has highlighted that will help strengthen and support your mental health through the coronavirus pandemic.

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