Laura Henshaw: why improving your physical health can benefit your mental health

Physical exercise can have a profound impact on our mental state. For Laura Henshaw, discovering this was an important step in a journey to a happier life.

Laura Henshaw

Laura Henshaw

Laura Henshaw is a student, entrepreneur and model with a keen focus on mental and physical wellbeing.

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Before I had Instagram, I didn't even know what a diet was. Then, when I was 20, I modelled overseas. While I was there, I started to form unrealistic expectations of body types. I started using social media more, and I definitely felt the pressure of being exposed to all those perfect-looking people. Suddenly, I was following all of the influencers’ diets and exercise routines.

Falling into the calorie trap

During this time, I wasn't exercising for myself – I was exercising as punishment. I felt that if I ate something ‘bad’ the day before, I had to work it off. It was almost like an equation: I had to burn these calories to look a certain way. It was a really, really negative mindset.

I hadn’t grown up like that. My family is very active, and I loved playing team sports all through high school. I started cross-country running in years 11 and 12; I was actually really bad at it when I started! But I learned that if I practised and I trained, I got better. I felt accomplished by the end of year 12.

But then I lost my connection with sport. Going from high school to university, you lose a lot of structure. You can do whatever you want with your time, and now I realise I spent a lot of time trying to look a certain way. I didn’t actually prioritise my fitness for the right reasons – I was focused on physical outcomes.

In my head, exercise was linked with negativity, with having eaten something bad, instead of it being for myself. Everything was about measurements and calories, instead of just enjoying it and getting what I needed out of it.

When you're focusing on physical things, it's like, "What exercise should I do to lose five kilos?" It's not about what you enjoy, or something you can keep doing – and those things are important. If you're depriving yourself of food and exercising two hours a day, your social life will be affected, too.

Make your #onechange

This week, put your phone on flight mode and take a 30-minute walk.

Redefining my relationship with exercise

I had to work through that and find a connection with exercise again. A more positive relationship that was just for me; something for stress relief.

Now, when I exercise, I feel stronger, which makes me feel empowered. I’m fitter, so I have more energy throughout the day. It's also really de-stressing for my mind. Exercise releases endorphins, so I feel happier. I realise now that exercise is about creating a positive routine, not just a quick fix.

These days, I start my mornings with a workout. It’s my ‘me’ time for the day. I turn my phone on flight mode so I can't get any emails or calls coming through. Then I just do it, and I find I can really clear my head. Life is so busy – it's nice to be able to dedicate time to doing something for myself. Then I know I’m going to be a better person throughout the day.

Listening to my body

Running for me is the best way to clear my mind – it’s almost a form of meditation. But I like to do a mix of workouts. I listen to my body. If I'm super tired, I might do yoga or a low-intensity session. Or if I'm really in the mood to de-stress, I will go on that long run. These days, I can use exercise as a stress-release mechanism, whereas before it was something that contributed to it. I find that when I exercise, I have more energy and my mind is clearer. That's the biggest thing: I'm happier.

Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes I might have a busy week where I can’t fit a workout in. And it’s important to be okay with that. I feel like if I'm too focused, too obsessed, on whether I exercise or not, then it’s going to become a negative. I'm going to make myself think that I'm going to have a bad day because I haven't exercised. But you can’t control everything. You can’t control if you’re busy; you can’t control if you’re injured and have to spend time recovering. What can you take control of? It might be eating a bit better, or sleeping more.

Just do what you can with what you have. You might not have an hour to go for a run; you might only have 15 minutes. That's okay. Be flexible and adaptable, and be kind to yourself. I think that's the most important thing. Your mind (and body) will thank you.

Laura Henshaw

Laura Henshaw is a student, entrepreneur and model with a keen focus on mental and physical wellbeing. She co-founded Keep It Cleaner, an online health and fitness program, and will soon publish a book designed to encourage young women to live their best lives. The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional, tax or other advice. It does not take into account any individual’s personal situation or needs. You should consider obtaining professional advice from a financial adviser and/or tax specialist, or medical or health practitioner, in relation to your own circumstances and before acting on this information.