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From dog-walking to yoga, new research has found that Brits are ditching old attitudes to prioritise exercise that brings them joy and boosts their mental health

‘No pain, no gain’, it’s a phrase that a lot of us will be familiar with. It summons up visions of panting desperately over a spin bike, drenched in sweat, already dreading the full-body aches that will have us unable to move the next day, all the time being shouted at by a commanding instructor who just wants you to ‘PUSH!’

For some people, tough workouts really do work. But research from AXA Health has revealed that eight in 10 adults believe that enjoyment of exercise is key, while 55% don’t think that you should have to suffer through strenuous exercise in order to lead a healthy lifestyle.

In the study of 2,000 adults, researchers also highlighted how many people now see mental health as the foundation of good physical health, with 39% attributing ‘doing what you love’ as being vital for their overall wellbeing.

Exercise has long been known to have benefits for our mental health but, as we gradually take the pressure off partaking in extreme ‘no pain, no gain’ style workouts, we’re opening the doors for more people, of any ability, to reap the rewards of an active lifestyle.

Lockdown has taught many of us the value of a simple walk around the block, but exercise could be anything from yoga to swimming, and playing a casual game of badminton with friends or dancing along to some uplifting video workouts.

“Health means something different to all of us, only you know what makes you feel good,” says Dr Annabel Bentley, chief medical officer, AXA Health. “It might mean going for regular runs, or it might be borrowing the neighbour’s dog for a walk. It could be gentle stretching or meditation or simply taking time to sit somewhere quietly and switch your mind – and phone – off.”

The study coincides with AXA Health’s campaign, Feelgood Health, fronted by comedian Jack Whitehall, with the aim of helping people to learn how they can take care of their mind and their bodies, and that health is less about setting extreme goals and more about enjoying yourself.

© Jeff Moore | AXA HealthÕs Dr Annabel Bentley sets Jack Whitehall feelgood dog walking challenge in new Feelgood Health initiative

To explore these ideas, Dr Bently set Jack Whitehall the challenge to uncover what feel-good health looked like for him, leading them to try forest bathing, yoga, and dog walking.

“This is the sort of healthy that isn’t about 5 am starts and being shouted at by a personal trainer,” says Jack. “I know that works for some people, but it’s just not for me. Instead, Dr Annabel turns up with a chihuahua ready for a dog walk… I mean, give me that over an ultramarathon any day.”

It goes to show just how many ways to be healthy there really are, and how important wellness and mental health is for our overall wellbeing. So, whatever good health looks like for you, join the growing number of people who are ditching ‘no pain, no gain’, and are doing exercise with joy.

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