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How Regular Exercise Improved My Mental Wellness

By Peter McDonnell, Daytime Cleaner at Basingstoke Sports Centre

When I first started working for Basingstoke Sports Centre in April 2012 (in the maintenance and cleaning department), there were some amazing things about the job that I could benefit from.  I got to work in a thriving, friendly and healthy environment where there was always something interesting happening. I have enjoyed interacting with members and other customers while going about my work and I enjoy the dynamic - whether it’s chatting to some of the older customers as they have their coffee meet ups in the café, talking to the toddlers take part in their first swimming lessons or seeing the gym-goers pumping iron - whose motivation and dedication is impressive. 
The best thing though, for me, is being able to use the facilities, which are available to all staff. 
I like using the gym.  I have my own approach to how I work out. I don’t only do weightlifting to build muscle and it’s not just cardiovascular exercise to lose weight.  I like to hover between the two. And, although the gym staff have suggested picking a side for faster results, I’m happier sitting on the fence.  I’d probably lose weight more effectively or build muscle quicker if I chose to do either or the other, but I like doing it my way. 
I am a person with past mental health problems and although I’m pretty much fine now, my old problems are still there sometimes, and when they pop up, there is one thing that predictably helps me – working out.  If I don’t go to the gym for a week or two because of laziness, the chemicals in my brain become slightly less happy.  When I attend regularly and enthusiastically my brain keeps those endorphins circulating effortlessly.
I enjoy the gym, but because of other commitments and sometimes my laziness, I have phases where I don’t go in for a month or two.  Then when I do go back, I stick with it for a month or two and I lose a bit of my beer belly (which always seems to return).  Since 2012 I haven’t been able to make that final push and burn off the last bits of fat and get myself a flat stomach. So my weight rises then falls, rises then falls, etc.  I’m not overweight at all but I’m not quite what I would call trim.  Some call it a ‘Dad Bod’. 
In 2012, at my heaviest, I was 81.5 kg.  At my lightest in about 2014 I was 76.5 kg, and it fluctuates between these numbers.  Like most people, I like to eat.  Eating feels good.  But eating doesn’t feel as good as looking at the scales and seeing that you have lost weight!
It can be tough to retain the enthusiasm – it’s so much easier to stay home and watch TV, but when I do go I love the gym.  I’m one of those people that feels a genuine release of endorphins and other happy chemicals when I work out and they last for a few hours after the workout too.  Exercise has been proven again and again to be good for mental health as well as physical. For some people this means they feel less depressed perhaps, if they have depression, but this can also mean other things.  I know a few people that consider the gym their sanctuary, somewhere they can get away from the stresses in their life, stresses from home life or work life for example.  Lots of people meditate when they work out, me included.  You might find me deep in thought while I am on the cross trainer, thinking about my life, my career, my social relationships and generally organising my thoughts. 
The mental health benefits don’t stop there either.  Going to the gym gives us social contact, a way of structuring and occupying our time, social status, a sense of identity, a sense of personal achievement and more. 
The advantages of becoming a member at your local sports centre go on and on. Sports centres and health clubs are a natural place of happiness and well-being.  For eons people have trained their minds and bodies to better themselves and they will continue to do so far into the future.  I think the highest concentration of healthy people in any given town or city is at their local sports centre.  Right now there are people there playing badminton, squash, football, table tennis, working out, swimming, spinning, attending fitness classes and more.     
They say that nature has the power to make a person happier.  I think our local sports centre does too.   
If you would like to know more about mental health/illness and life, you can visit my website with lots of interesting and useful information – petermcdonnellwriter.com