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How working out works wonders for your mental health

A chance conversation with a health professional led Kenny to the gym for the first time in years. Now, when restrictions allow, he goes every day. He says it changed his life

Image credit: Karl Solano/Pexels

Big Issue vendors have a wide variety of skills and experience, so we bring you the best of their knowledge each week. Find more vendors and their stories on our vendor map. This week, Kenny Whitecross from Edinburgh talks about how a chance encounter led to his love for the gym and explains how exercise can work wonders for your physical and mental wellbeing. 

I was ravaged with addiction for years and that’s had an impact on my mental health. One day I was speaking to my community psychiatric nurse (CPN) and he gave me a card for Edinburgh Leisure so I could pay £1 a time to go to the gym or for a swim. I started going on September 2 and I’d been almost every day until it had to close.

Before that, the only time I’d been inside a gym was when I was in prison, but as a young boy growing up I was always out playing football. Morning to night, I always had a football in my arms wherever I went. So I already knew about the feelgood factor of doing sport.

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To anyone who’s struggling with their mental health, I would strongly encourage them to get to a gym when this lockdown is eased, and not to look at other people who have been going for a while.

It can be daunting when you see people who are a lot fitter than you. You sort of compare yourself to them but you’ve just got to tell yourself that you’re doing this for you. Your primary goal is for your own mental health. If you’ve got a CPN or a doctor, ask if there’s a special scheme like mine you can be part of where it costs you next to nothing.

I was a bit anxious when I went in for the first time, I made the mistake that first day of trying to do too much rather than easing myself in. I ended up with my arms, shoulders, chest and back killing me for two or three days after so I couldn’t go back.

But as soon as it started to ease off I was straight back in. Now I’m in a routine where one day for instance I only work my shoulders, then next time I’ll only work my arms. And then my back and chest and so on. I’m now starting to see the physical results and that’s given me an even bigger boost to continue.

Exercising will make you sleep better, and it’s also got me to address what I’m putting in my body. I was living off takeaways for a while but now I’m cutting these things out and trying to put better food in my body. Healthy body, healthy mind. The two go hand in hand.

Kenny was speaking to Sarah Reid

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