Does physical activity really improve your mental health?

Christmas, although it was one a lot different to its predecessors as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, gave people the opportunity to take time out, relax, recover and get ready for another busy year. One sports and fitness expert in the county, however, feels it is time that people get down to business and adopt their own fitness regime which may be beneficial for both their physical and mental health as 2022 begins. MARK MCGOLDRICK caught up with KEIRA ELLIOTT from FOCUS to find out what sort of physical exercise people should be doing and the best way to keep yourself in shape, following the festive period.


MARK MCGOLDRICK: What tips would you give to someone who is trying to keep in shape? Is nutrition important, hydration or how could a person maintain a good health over and after Christmas?



KIERA ELLIOTT: If keeping in shape is your goal, you must define what this means for you. Is your focus aerobic development, speed, strength or a little of each? I feel that with any sporting goal, you must have a progressive plan. It is important to know your baseline, so you can monitor progression. Within strength and conditioning, you want a strategic application of stress applied to the body to illicit your desirable adaptation.

A few things you must question are how you felt your overall sporting performance was last season. You should then base a realistic goal around this and judge how long it will take to achieve this.

My top tip would be to set yourself realistic goals. For example, to improve on your sprinting ability, you must sprint maximally once a week and look at your speed mechanics.

You would then base your progression of the training plan around recorded sprint distances and times. Record each sprint distance and time for objective data collection, so you can monitor your progress. Aiming to make it improvement each session.

MMG: Especially over the festive period, people like to take a treat, whether it is a sweet, chocolate, bar or a slice of Christmas cake. Do you think it is acceptable for people to take a treat now and again, in moderation?

KE: Balance for some people can be hard as they may struggle with guilt after they eat something. This is very common. To find balance in your diet over the festive period I feel the 80:20 rule can be an easy way to get the best of both worlds and can make it easier to stay on track or limit the guilt when eating.


Another few tips would bet to ensure food satisfaction with everything you eat and have flexibility with your choices. You should allow moderation with all you do, if you happen to over consume on calories, then you may want to increase your activity levels.

This doesn’t have to be gym related, but something low impact such as a walk to counteract your actions.

MMG: You post up a lot of exercises on your social media. Is it important that people make time in their day to regularly exercise? How long should they spend doing this and what sort of stuff would you recommend?

KE: I would say that regular movement daily is important, not just for the physical benefits, but also for the mental benefits. When people see the word exercise, they often associate that with a heavily intense session. Walking, cleaning, shopping, and other daily movements are all classified as exercise which are important contribution to overall health.

Many athletes forget to rest, when this is a crucial part for our recovery, preventing overuse injuries and adaptions to the stress and stimuli we place on our body. So it’s important that this is scheduled in your plan.

When it comes to exercise duration, it will all depend on your goals. The aim of the off-season is to prepare for the next pre-season. Your sessions can be longer and more challenging because more training stress can be applied without risking poor competitive performance.

You could spend 15 minutes of a session on mobility, prehabilitation and rehabilitation work and acceleration preparation of 45 minutes on the main session or 15-45 minutes on a pitch or running session.

The duration can change depending on what needs done, how you feel and how much time you have. A 30-minute session can be just as effective once its planned correctly.

Recommendations are completely personal to the person and their goals.

MMG: Do you feel that by taking part in physical activity every day, it helps with people’s mental health and keeps them distracted from the struggles of modern-day lift for a short while?

KE: In my opinion, physical activity can help with mental health as it can be a great de-stressor and offer people a distraction when needed. For me, I see it as self-care and time for myself. Once I hit my goals such as hitting a personal best in the gym or overall sprint distance in a match, I live for the sense of achievement.

However, there is also a competitive, obsessive side to playing sport and physical activity, which can cause some unnecessary stress and anxiety. I fell into this a few years ago and began obsessively tracking my calories and excessively exercising which left me neglecting my body, dropping body weight to fast, and picking up two injuries that left me out of football for a year. This wasn’t great for either my physical or mental health as the return to sport with the fear of re-injury and falling back into old habits was difficult.

Finding what works for you is important. The off-season is now your time to experiment with training loads, working on weaknesses, your nutrition and recovery methods so you can take them with you into the pre-season. It’s important to take advantage of this, but everything should be in moderation. This time of year is about spending time with family and friends, but also finding other outlets to contribute to your off-season goals, keeping in shape and full of energy.

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