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YOUR HEALTH: MENTAL STRENGTH With ACON Lesbian Health Project
Given society's obsession with body image,
I'd bet you think the main reason people
exercise is for weight loss. Exercise is one way
to improve physical health but it's also a great way to
boost your mental health.
Mental health is a positive concept referring to a
state of emotional and social wellbeing in which an
individual realises her own abilities, can cope with
the normal stresses of life, can work fruitfully, and is
able to make a contribution to her community.
In 2007 the Australian Bureau of Statistics
conducted the second National Sur vey of Mental
Health and Wellbeing and found that mental illnesses
are the third leading cause of disability in Australia
with about 5% of women experiencing a major
depressive illness in any 12-month period. e main
mental illnesses amongst women are depression,
anxiety and substance use disorders. With the added
pressures on lesbians and same-sex attracted women,
the LGBT communities' experience of mental illness
is increased with younger women being most at risk.
In this regard it is interesting to note that the ages for
a major drop out in sport and exercise in woman is
from 16-18 years old.
Exercise can improve mental health in a number
of ways. Firstly, it can lead to a person having a better
body image and this can sometimes help them feel
better about themselves as a person. A lack of self-
esteem can feed depression while high self-esteem
can lead to positive thinking. Research indicates that
women who exercise have higher levels of con dence
and self-esteem, more positive body image and
experience higher states of psychological wellbeing.
Like many activities, exercise provides a temporary
distraction from life's problems. Sometimes a healthy
distraction is good medicine for what ails the mind.
Exercise that takes the form of group activities or
social settings can bene t a person's mood. Getting
out of the house and interacting with others can
combat the feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Serotonin is a hormone that controls your moods.
A er exercise the body releases serotonin which is an
important neurotransmitter that helps the brain to
function. Eating right and getting plenty of exercise
can help raise serotonin levels and keep you feeling
Exercise leads to your body becoming more
relaxed and can increase your concentration levels.
Better concentration levels can help with work
performance, something that can be hindered
through mental illness.
Poor sleep and subsequent tiredness is
common for people with a mental illness. Your
body and mind being more relaxed through
healthy exercise can help you sleep.
If you have been feeling down or know that
you have a mental health problem it could be
really bene cial for you to get active. ere
are many types of exercise to suit everybody's
lifestyle. Exercise isn't just about looking good
but about feeling good too. One of my clients
who lives with a mental illness said to me, "the
hardest thing about exercising is getting started
but once you have you never regret it but wonder,
why didn't I do this sooner."
For the best bene ts from exercise try to keep it
regular, i.e. three to six times a week and exercise
with a friend to help keep you motivated.
For more information about ACON's services,
please visit www.acon.org.au or call 9206 2000.
To find out more about mental health support
options please visit www.beyondblue.org.au
ACON guest columnist and personal trainer
are the third leading
cause of disability
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