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Health day: How are exercise and mental health connected in everyday life?

Am I moving enough? What new routines can I test? Dr Katja Bühlmeyer will be a guest at Hof University’s internal Health Day on 28 February 2024. On this day, all members of the university will have the opportunity to try out various sports programmes on the Hof campus and learn more about health and nutrition. The sports scientist and coach, Dr Bühlmeyer, spoke to Campuls Digital in advance. She will be giving a morning presentation on “The role of exercise for mental health”.

Familie, die sich draußen im Grünen bewegt und Spaß hat
Photo: stock.adobe.com | 117310875

“A lot helps a lot” – what’s the truth? How much exercise a day is really healthy?

Dr Katja Bühlmeyer: “It’s not easy to say in general terms. For people with sedentary jobs, the more variety and movement you integrate into your daily routine, the better. And if you do have to sit, then try to sit in as many different positions as possible or alternate between standing and sitting. This will prevent individual body structures from being overloaded or shortened. Most people tend to move too little. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared exercise to be one of the most important pillars of global health. If you want to bring more movement into your everyday life: start small – make a (small) change and stick to it for 66 days – from then on, the new activity will become a habit and will no longer cost you any willpower – it will become automatic. Once this is the case, you can move on to the next (small) change. And: celebrate your success!”

What preventative measures should be incorporated into everyday life?

Dr Katja Bühlmeyer: “We live in times of crisis – that shapes us and makes us anxious. It puts a strain on our (mental) health. There are 3 important pillars that strengthen us and our health: Exercise, good nutrition and regeneration (relaxation). The good thing is that you can control these issues yourself. You should – in small steps! – these 3 pillars into your life. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s worth it – you’ll achieve greater well-being, health and happiness.”

Portrait von Dr. Katja Bühlmeyer
Sportwissenschaftlerin Dr. Katja Bühlmeyer Foto: Hochschule Hof

Do you need exercises or is normal exercise enough?

Dr Katja Bühlmeyer: “If you are healthy and don’t have any tension, then you don’t necessarily need to exercise. The most important thing is to choose movements that you enjoy – this could be woodworking, going for a walk, weeding, swimming, cycling… Pay attention to your body and your mind. Ask yourself the following questions at the end of the exercise session: How do I feel? How am I feeling mentally? How am I feeling physically? If you can answer all the questions positively, then keep at it! Physical overload should of course be avoided. This means that you can have sore muscles, but you should stop exercising if you feel pain. If the pain persists, you should see a doctor.”

What rituals have you integrated into your everyday life?

Dr Katja Bühlmeyer: “I do my office work on a Pezi ball and have a standing desk. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve been doing sport since I was a child, so it’s normal for me – I feel unwell if I don’t move. I discovered the topic of regeneration and mental health a little too late for me: I’ve been keeping a gratitude diary for 2 years and try to incorporate a relaxation exercise every day. I don’t always manage to do the latter – then I just take a day off and decide to relax more the next day.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve changed my diet – step by step – towards more fruit and vegetables, less bread and as little sugar as possible – that was and still is by far the hardest thing for me.”

What kind of exercise really helps to reduce stress?

Dr Katja Bühlmeyer: “The same applies here: do what you enjoy most. You should be able to switch off from everyday life and work during the exercise session. If you don’t know what options are available, seek advice. There are also online tests. You are welcome to contact me and I will send you more information. Even small exercises can reduce stress: whatever is good for you is allowed! For example, you can shake out your body after a stressful phone call or conversation – literally shake off the negative emotions. To do this, stand up straight and start shaking your arms out and integrate your whole body into this shaking movement – as if you were standing on a vibrating plate. Do this for 2 minutes and then come to rest and take 5 deep breaths. A small exercise like this can sometimes help.”

Does the desire for exercise change with age?

Dr Katja Bühlmeyer: “That’s a very good question. Firstly, I would say no. In personality research, there is a hypothesis that people have an “activity motive” that is more or less pronounced. In other words: if I have this, then I will also have it in old age. However, external circumstances change (partner, friends, time, job, etc.) – this can either inhibit or encourage my urge to exercise. Exercise is essential for us to stay fit and healthy for as long as possible. “Die young – and as late as possible!” That should be our motto. That’s why everyone should find a motive, a reason, a drive to exercise more.”

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