There are lots of reasons why we go to the gym; to keep fit, to build strength, or increasingly as an alternative to medication.

For many, however, heading to the gym or leisure centre is actually less about physical activity and more about mental wellbeing. There is a very scientific basis for this of course. When we exercise our bodies release endorphins (otherwise known as ‘happy’ chemicals) that naturally lift our mood.

But that is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to exploring the mental benefits of heading down the gym for a group class or individual workout. Which ties in rather nicely with an initiative we are running right now.

What’s important to you, motivates you

As part of our Find your why (#Findyourwhy) campaign we’re encouraging everyone to think about what they get from visiting their local leisure centre or community centre, and to share that with us. In other words, we’re asking to hear more about people’s ‘reason why’. The idea being that it might help inspire others.

Member Bill Miller is a perfect example of someone whose motivation is definitely linked to mental health. But not for the endorphin rush.

Bill, 77, initially signed up to our local ‘Confidence Walks’ at Life Leisure Brinnington as a way to help manage his COPD. But when we asked about his ‘why’, Bill explained it’s the social aspects of being out and about that keep him motivated and give him a mental boost.

He said: “I live by myself and don’t do much talking. But at the centre and on the walks, everyone makes you feel welcome and it’s very relaxed. It gives me a reason to get showered and dressed in a morning.”

Don’t worry if your reasons change

With this campaign, we’re also keen to stress that motivations change and that’s fine. Marleen Brassington, 79, is another great source of inspiration on this front.

Like Bill, she didn’t necessarily set out to be more active to boost her mental wellbeing. In fact, her initial driver to join her local gym was a pledge to improve her fitness.

She has since found that that, for her, it’s actually the social aspects that have proven far more valuable. The reason she keeps going is the lift she gets from interacting with people.

She said: “To see all the different characters who come here and what they contribute in their own way is lovely. After lockdown many of us found it difficult to get off the sofa and start socialising again but coming to the gym to get fit and healthy has really pushed me into socialising too. It really is about social and emotional wellbeing as much as physical.”

Preventing stress sounds perfect to us 

Sometimes, the best possible thing about taking part in an activity or heading down the gym is actually what it helps prevent. Stress is a good example.

When we have too much mental, physical and/or emotional pressure we become stressed, making us feel anxious, low and irritable, even affecting our sleep. It might be impossible to avoid all such feelings, but for many a little ‘active living’ helps prevent too much stressful build-up.

Take Dom Firth, from Stockport, who uses working out at a Life Leisure each morning to help manage his stress levels throughout the day.

He said: “It’s vital to me and helps me mentally. I have a stressful job working different shifts. At Life Leisure there’s a real sense of community – no matter what time you arrive – and it’s nice to see a familiar face. It’s a great way to start the day. I feel like I’ve done something for myself before I head off to work. It’s a productive start to the day.”

There’s only one you

A desire to be more ‘fit and healthy’ is a great reason to seek out activity – to join a local leisure centre or community group and to try new things. But what’s most likely to keep you motivated is far more personal.

For Bill, it’s getting out of the house more. For Marleen, a desire to be more social. And for Dom, the motivation is putting a stop to stress. But that’s them. For you it may be different. It’s all about giving things a go until you find the thing that makes you want to come back. Time and time again. So go on, give things a try. It’s exciting finding your ‘why’!