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Exercise is therapy

After what we’ve been through it’s OK to feel differently, and it is more important than ever to look after our physical and mental wellbeing. This week we spoke to Shanaze Reade, World Champion BMX rider, track cyclist and Ambassador for the Manx Youth Games, about how exercise can be a great tool to improving and maintaining our own mental health.

Shanaze is no stranger to success, as a former world champion BMX rider, track cyclist and Olympian, but she has also struggled with her own mental health journey – navigating the difficult world of competition, judgement, retirement and identity.

Her open dialogue is making her known as more than an athlete – a passionate mental health advocate she is about to launch her own mentoring project, a book and will be on our TV screens later this year. We spoke to her about the strong positive impact exercise can have on wellbeing  

Exercise is more than just sweat – it’s therapy. Some people will need the support of counselling or medication, but exercise is free and one of the best forms of therapy. You’re doing something for you, taking your mind off any stresses and strains. It’s my meditation.

There are so many forms of exercise you can choose, from gentle to strenuous. And it’s something I have control over, that I know I can do to help me feel better – so sometimes when I don’t feel great I still do it, but I might just do something gentler like a walk. It’s not about going fast or slow, it’s about getting out, releasing endorphins, enjoying the fresh air and having some independence.

It’s not all about winning. I’d encourage anyone, but especially children and young adults, to get involved in team sports – when you feel like part of a team there’s endless benefits – meeting new friends, socialising and the exercise itself. It’s creating a support and encouragement network, and when it comes to competitions you should just aim to do your best. Sport should be about enjoyment.

Speak up, when you’re ready. The first time doing anything is really daunting, but I’d encourage anyone to find someone you can relate to, and that you trust, to speak to. It should be your choice to speak up when you’re ready, but there are plenty of people out there who want to help. Sometimes it’s about finding someone not too close to you that is neutral and feels safe to speak to, like a teacher, coach or friend.

You don’t always learn at school. Anxiety, panic attacks and depression can be very overwhelming but once you get a bit of education about these things and know what to expect, it makes dealing with them a lot easier. My big thing is you should carry a mental toolbox round with you to help you get through things, which is currently covered in the curriculum – so we need to start with children, and teach them the tools they need to support themselves and others.

Advice before a big day (like the upcoming Manx Youth Games!). Do what you can to prepare – get a good night’s sleep, a good breakfast as your fuel and just enjoy the event. We’ve all been stuck in the house for so long so just revel in the experience.

For more tools and resources on mental wellbeing visit: or if you would like to speak to someone call the Community Support and Information Line team on +44 1624 686262.