Move like your mind needs it


A resilience-building strategy from Kamal Sarma*. Find out how to introduce more movement into your day, improving your physical and mental wellbeing.

“Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America, and exercise is the most potent, yet underutilized antidepressant.” Bill Phillips, author and entrepreneur. 

Do you spend most of your working day at your desk, talking to clients? After work, do you sit a little while longer at the dinner table then in front of the TV to wind down?

You know, deep down, that to build or maintain your physical health, you’re probably not moving your body as much as you should. But do you realise how important movement is for your mental wellbeing?

The importance of movement

In an analysis of data from more than 1.2 million US adults, subjects reported an average of almost 3.4 days of poor mental health in the past month. (The researchers asked study participants about depression, stress, and emotional problems.). However, those who exercised struggled nearly 1.5 fewer days a month.

That’s an impressive 43.2% decrease in the mental health burden on those people and the people who support them. And it’s not marathon runners or pro athletes we’re talking about here. Exercise like cycling, cardio and working out in the gym were found to have substantial positive effects on mental wellbeing. But the most effective forms of exercise were found to involve a team sport, suggesting the benefits have more to do with social connectedness than athletic ability.

Movement vs medicine

Physical activity may also provide the bonus of helping medications for depression and anxiety be more effective. In some cases, it could even be as good if not better than pharmaceuticals. That’s because:

  1. Exercise suppresses the body’s fight or flight response to stress.
  2. Exercise increases our body's production of feel-good chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine. These work as an antidepressant and mood booster.
  3. Moving our bodies triggers our brain to release endorphins and even opioids that we naturally produce.
  4. Exercise gives us more confidence in ourselves thus reducing anxiety.
  5. Working up a sweat helps distract us from things that are stressful and triggering.

With so many things in life beyond our control, it's pretty amazing what can happen when we take it upon ourselves to move our bodies more and let them do what they were built to do naturally.

Strategy: Integrate movement into your day

Try not to think that ‘exercise’ only means going to the gym. If we think of exercise simply as movement, there’s lots of easy ways to integrate it into our day. Here are some that our clients have found useful.

  1. If you catch a bus or train, get off one or two stops earlier. When you drive, find a parking spot that requires a short walk to your destination. This gives your movement some purpose and it can become part of your daily routine.

  2. Make more meetings walking meetings. Many people find that they can save time and be more productive.

  3. Reduce the use of elevators and escalators. Try to use the stairs as much as possible. Plan a lunchtime walk and, ideally, find a route that includes 10 to 15 flights of stairs. 

What other strategies can you think of to help integrate movement into your life?

Find out more

For more strategies, insights and information from Kamal Sarma on building resilience, read his ‘Five to thrive’, brought to you by BT.

* About Kamal Sarma. Living in a monastery, Kamal Sarma trained as a monk for 6 years before gaining postgraduate qualifications and excelling in senior corporate positions in organisations such as McKinsey & Company. He is the founder and CEO of Rezilium, a strategic leadership firm that delivers customised resilience programs to a range of organisations including Google, Facebook and PWC. He is currently Chairman of the R U OK Conversations think tank, which takes research and turns it into practical tools. Kamal is also the co-founder of a not-for-profit venture, Captivate the Future, which aims to build confidence, resilience and self-esteem in high school students through public speaking, and is the author of 3 books. 

Next: To breathe or not to breathe

To breathe or not to breathe - Another resilience-building strategy from Kamal Sarma. Find out how to control your breathing and use it to calm your mind, body and emotions.
Mental health will be an issue most advisers will have to deal with at some time as life insurance can play an important part in recovery.
Another resilience-building strategy from Kamal Sarma. Find out how to create more meaning in your life and be better equipped to face life’s challenges.
The power of perspective - Another resilience-building strategy from Kamal Sarma. Find out how to focus on the things that matter today and stop stressing about the rest.

Important information

The content for this article is prepared by Kamal Sarma, CEO Rezilium. Information is current as at 20 March 2020. The views expressed in this article are those of Kamal Sarma alone unless otherwise quoted, and do not reflect the views or policy of any company in the Westpac Group. This article is for adviser use only. Any case study or example contained in this article is for illustrative purposes only, and is not to be construed as an indication or prediction of future performance or results. While the information contained in this article may contain or be based on information obtained from sources believed to be reliable, it may not have been independently verified. Where information contained in this article contains material provided directly by third parties it is given in good faith and has been derived from sources believed to be accurate at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, no company in the Westpac Group accepts any responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of, or endorses any such material. Except where contrary to law, we intend by this notice to exclude liability for this material. This article may also contain links to websites operated by third parties (‘Third Parties’) who are not related to the Westpac Group (‘Third Party Web Sites’). These links are provided for convenience only and do not represent any endorsement or approval by the Westpac Group of those Third Parties or the information, products or services displayed or offered on the Third Party Web Sites.