R U OK? Day, held on the second Thursday in September, is a national day of action, dedicated to reminding everyone that any day is the day to ask, “Are you ok?” and support those struggling with life.
The day is about inspiring people to start these conversations every day of the year and, in support of this important initiative, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) is encouraging Australians to utilise physical activity and exercise as a way to reach out and reconnect.
“Socialising through the efforts of exercise offers a range of significant benefits to those living with a mental health condition,” explains Anita Hobson-Powell, ESSA Chief Executive Officer.
“Exercise itself is proven to be effective as a part of treatment for mental illnesses, but exercising with someone and starting those conversations of “Are you ok?” can help check in with someone’s mental health and keep them on track with treatment, or at least let them know there is support available.”
With research showing us that being physically active is associated with lower suicidal ideations, exercise has a clear role in maintaining and promoting the physical and mental well-being of Australians in order to help prevent and manage chronic conditions and illnesses, such as poor mental health.
“With 1 in 5 Australians experiencing a mental illness each year, we all should be taking responsibility to regularly connect and support each other. Asking how someone is doing and engaging in meaningful conversations during exercise is an opportune time to do this, as it can be less confronting than sitting opposite someone,” says Ms Hobson-Powell.
Carly Ryan, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, explains that by going for a casual walk around the block or to the park with the dog, or heading out of town for a hike, and starting a conversation and commenting on any changes you’ve noticed, you could help that family member, friend or workmate open up.
“If they are ok, that person will know you’re someone who cares enough to ask and you’re both enjoying some quality time being active, benefiting both your mental and physical health.”
If they’re not ok, then the R U OK? website recommends four simple conversation steps that you can use to show the other person that they’re supported and help them find strategies to better manage the load.
It’s important not to make engaging in exercise a one off. The Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelinesindicate that accumulating 150 to 300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate intensity exercise each week will greatly benefit your physical and mental health.
“It’s recommended that you try a variety of different types of activities and choose one that you enjoy the most. By incorporating the social element it can take the pressure off the ideology of exercising for your health, and more about enjoying your time together,” shares Ms Ryan.
If you’re exercising for the first time it’s important to note that higher doses of exercise may be more effective at improving mental illness but people may be less likely to stick to them. As such, start slowly and build up gradually.
“Something is better than nothing. For example, if you have not been exercising at all, start with a 10-15 minute walk each day, and gradually increase this to 30 minutes per day,” adds Ms Ryan.
ESSA recommends speaking with an appropriately qualified exercise professional, such as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, who understands the complexities of exercising with mental health conditions, and has the skills and knowledge to help individuals manage their health through exercise.
To find out more information about R U OK? Day, click here.
To find out more about exercising right for mental health conditions, refer to the ESSA Exercise & Mental Health eBook.
To contact your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist, visit the ESSA website.