How movement can transform your mental health

Behind-the-scenes with IMI Osteopath Jonathan Vallade: how martial arts and yoga changed his life for the better.

When Jonathan Vallade extols the virtues of movement for improved mental health, he speaks from personal and professional experience. Once a young teen exposed to daily acts of violence and intimidation inside and outside of school, Jonathan knows first-hand the feelings of intense stress, nervousness, a loss of control and rage. He knows what it’s like to assume his experiences are ‘normal’, to feel unable to speak out, and to struggle to achieve.

A far cry from the scared and stressed teen he once was, Jonathan is now the epitome of physical and mental health.  He seeks to raise awareness of the benefits of physical activity and its ripple effect on psychological well-being. After all, movement turned his life around. From the yoga practices he learnt from his father, an esteemed traditional Yoga instructor, to the discovery of Kung Fu Wushu at the age of 13, physical activities opened up a world of opportunities for him and shaped his future, he says.

“These practices equipped me with emotional and mental balance. When I was younger, martials arts and yoga helped to build my self-confidence, face my fears, recognise my strengths and succeed at school. Now, they help me to maintain good health, manage life’s inevitable stresses and, ultimately, inspire people around me,” Jonathan shares.

Movement- an antidote for stressed-out Hong Kongers

Practicing any physical activity with passion – be it yoga, Zumba or tennis – strengthens your body and mind, says Jonathan. “Exercising regularly positively impacts your brain. Lactate, that is produced by exercise, travels to your brain and functions as an anti-anxiety. This can help people recover from trauma and mental health challenges like chronic stress, anxiety and depression,” he explains.

Different sports and workouts can also equip you with the skills to thrive in high-pressure situations – skills that Hong Kongers would benefit from. Even before the protests and pandemic, studies confirmed that the majority of Hong Kong residents were overwhelmingly stressed. The global challenges of late have exhausted many more.

Which is why in these times of turbulence, Jonathan encourages people, young and old, to move more.

He observes that many of the health conditions he treats stem from chronic stress and fatigue. Muscle pain, digestive issues, breathing challenges, insomnia, reduced immunity, repeat injuries and more. If multiple studies are anything to go by, it’s no wonder that most of these stressed-out patients lead predominantly sedentary lifestyles.

With the summer holidays upon us, now may be the ideal time to explore different sports and physical activities to reduce pent-up stress and increase mental wellbeing, Jonathan says.

“At a time when everything feels out of control, physical activity can give you a sense of achievement and increased confidence. It can improve positive thinking, mindfulness and resilience. Ultimately, all of these benefits can significantly improve your overall health and happiness. Consider engaging in a sport, regular workout or movement practice to help restore your mental and emotional balance. If a health condition, pain or discomfort is holding you back, come to see me and we’ll address your challenges together,” he concludes.

Photo by Jerome Quere.

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