R U OK? Day has been running since 2009 and has been held on the second Thursday of September every year since. It is a nation-wide movement, encouraging people to act, stay connected and have positive impact on people who are going through difficult times in their lives. R U OK? Day is a reminder that any day is the right day to ask someone, “Are you okay?” and make positive impact on people’s lives. 

The Australian non-profit suicide prevention organisation has made it their mission to build the confidence, skills, and motivation of all Australians to be the person to provide help to someone who is struggling.

Use these four steps and have a conversation that could change a life:

1. Ask R U OK?

2. Listen

3. Encourage action

4. Check in

Where does exercise play a role in this? Research shows us that being physically active is associated with lower suicidal ideations and has a positive affect on both physical and mental wellbeing. In addition to the above statistic, 1 in 5 Australians experience a mental health illness each year. According to a recent study, only 30% of children aged 2–17 and 44% of adults aged 18 and over meet the Australian physical activity guideline. This data suggests there is a large population of Australians who are not exercising adequately or at all and could be a large factor to the declining physical and mental health of these individuals! 

The Australian physical activity guidelines indicate that accumulating 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week will have significant benefit on both physical and mental wellbeing. It is important to include a variety of different types of exercise activities, as it should be fun and enjoyable and something that isn’t looked at as a ‘chore’ to optimise consistency. Exercise can be a great social activity also (which is of course great for our mental wellbeing), grab your friends or family to join you, or even join an exercise class and make some new friends! 

Benefits of exercising for mental health: 

1. Helps to manage chronic stress. Exercise helps to reduce stress by regulating the release of cortisol. 

2. Improved focus. Exercise can improve focus,concentration, alertness, and energy levels. 

3. Better sleep. Research shows exercise improves sleep, resulting in falling asleep faster, sleeping deeper, and reducing wake ups. 

4. Releases feel-good hormones. These secretions of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins during exercise directly reduce your exposure to anxiety and depression. 

5. Reduces the risk of cognitive decline. Exercise improves/maintains attention span, reaction time, information processing and memory. 

If you or anyone you know needs help:

• Lifeline on 13 11 14

• Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800

• National Alcohol and Other Drugs Hotline on 1800 250 015

• MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978

• Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467

• Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36

• Headspace on 1800 650 890

• SANE Australia on 1800 187 263

Let’s all get around our friends, family and work colleagues this R U OK? Day, and for days to come to make a positive change on the mental wellbeing of those around us. A small question can make a large impact on someone’s life.

By Shannon O’Neill