Art + fitness are good for your mental health.

Art + fitness are good for your mental health.

A psychologist I am not but a living breathing, emotional, reactive human being I most certainly am. Therefore, my blog allows me to share thoughts, some of my life and my (mainly personal) findings in relation to this topic of art and fitness. It is something I am so passionate about and excited to share with you. In this post we will discuss how art and fitness are linked and how they will improve your overall state of mind.

The further into my career I venture the more apparent it is to me that fitness and art are two of my loves. My art is the core of my business and feeds my life with great colour and my love for fitness is deep.

I have always been active and I see this natural instinct to be on the move in all three of my children. Perhaps it was the country air growing up or the fact that my brother and I had no choice but to embrace the outdoors. Mum had us walk to school (granted it was only 300 metres away) rain or shine. We cycled to friends houses for play dates (my closest friend Hazel lived 2 miles away) and we generally inhaled the fresh air more than we probably cared for.

This was the case right into our teenage years when driving tractors took over the excitement of mountain bikes. Albeit tractor driving to help collect bales in the field but still, it felt new and it gave me purpose on a Saturday afternoon as a fifteen year old.

The act of movement stayed with me right through high School where I clung dearly to netball. Ballynahinch high school was a small Secondary School but we were an awesome collection of netball players who won tournaments and spent most lunchtimes in the netball court. Movement (and pivoting) at the centre.

Grammar School was where I studied a levels. I had a bash at hockey and then onto University. It is safe to say that I had little to no flair (unlike my husband) on the hockey field but I loved it and seemed to be ‘ok’ making the b team with occasional stints as a sub on the A team.

Running, swimming and general body moving activities were my choice. Not one thing more than the other into my late twenties.

It wasn’t until I had pneumonia in 2014 after my second child that I realised either I was doing something wrong on the exercise front. Truth be told this was over exertion as opposed to too little movement in my life. Or, I was in need of a change to my movement and by this I mean that I really really needed slower days. Days with movement but of a different kind where my heart didn’t have to race at a million beats a minute.

So this I did. Simultaneous to the pneumonia the doctor realised I had the same heart defect as my late father so I had to take this change in my movement routine a little more seriously.

Exercise always served as my therapy. My headspace and my time to forget the pressures of life.

I remember a relationship break up at University. He wasn’t a great human being in hindsight but his unkind words during that final phone call (while I waited for my friend to try clothes on in the changing room of a department store) got to me. The sting of a break up doesn’t shift easily but my ability to get up and go for a run secured at least an hour of escapism from the hurt.

Might I add that during University I left my phone (more like a brick) at home and I ran with a cd player. After this I had an ipod. It’s difficult to imagine leaving our phones anywhere now, isn’t it?

Post pneumonia and after having had three babies , as well as the lovely rise in my professional career, I can hand on heart say that exercise/ movement/fitness still cures some of the evils in my busy mind.

This is therapy.

One definition of therapy is

“a curative power or quality…”


Fitness can do this for you too. Your choice of movement doesn’t need to be hockey or netball, swimming or yoga. It can be anything you like. Archery, pilates, sailing, walking during your lunch break instead of scrolling your phone. Our bodies were designed to move. They are at their best when they move and they are used. We no longer have to lug stones and  hand wash  clothes in a basin of starchy water. Nonetheless, the mechanical body we reside in is one hundred percent ours and it requires activity to thrive.

Now for art and its therapeutic ability.


I have practiced art all of my life- my Mum talks of me drawing our dog as it moved. Not a dog lying on a step but a dog moving- something which shows that I wanted to capture movement and early on expressing that capture was always most comfortable for me when done artistically.

Here are some of the reasons I believe art is therapeutic and why you should let yourself get creative to reap the benefits.

I completed “person centred planning” training when working with young people with learning disabilities. This taught me to focus on the needs of the person in front of me.

Then when working for Social services I had one to one sessions with a boy who had been abusing solvents from a very young age. This had affected and limited his attention span.  So ,when I was drafted in to help I designed his workshops like stations around the room to cater for his constant desire for change.

I had printers with me which allowed the digital art he made during the workshop to be printed immediately. Recognising that instant gratification had to play a role in this workshop helped its success.

Every time we met this boy learned how the routine of making art, in his own way, worked. He produced drawings using a pad linked to a laptop that we were then able to print. He could take this home. A sense of achievement fed his wellbeing and actually helped him know himself more. What it felt like to reach the end of an art session with me and to know that he could take a product home, improved his confidence and his interaction skills immensely.

A bit like my sister in law who recently completed the couch to 5k challenge. A time when achievements are not a product in our hand but a physical act that improves wellbeing allows us to know ourselves better and to experience the high of self worth.

The act of following a process from start to finish engages body and mind and takes both on a journey. This shuts off the outside world for a time.

Art is considered as therapy because very simply-  when our hands are busy our minds are free. Freedom in the mind  promotes a positive sense of wellbeing within.

I love time with my own boys using playdoh because when their little hands are busy they discuss more of their day or concerns. Like me and my running along the lagan river when I lived in Stranmillis as a student, movement of my feet in front of the other changed my focus from the cruel words and embarrassment I felt from my break up. 

During art sessions whatever the nature, we are aware there will be an outcome. Similar to a workout, there will be an outcome and endorphins and the side of the right brain is stimulated. Which in turn feeds your sense of self and the value that I believe you should feel. The more we exercise this part of our brain, the more we will want to try new things.

“The rational left brain hemisphere can stop the carefree right brain hemisphere from exploring new ideas. You can re-train your brain to think outside-the-box by using methods that enhance creativity. “.

If you want to increase your creativity (and bring a sense of therapy into your life) then please use my free tool  the youtube channel. There are drawing skills (this video has 40k views!), painting ideas and there are children’s craft videos you can use.

Also there are fifty of my free workouts on the hashtag #alyweeklyworkout on instagram or the fortnightly post I make for Belfast times. Add to that the fitness posts I have on this blog linked to trainers who share their tips or on ni gossip guy where I share mine and my new instagram AlyHartesFitness account.

I give this wealth of free content because I believe in a society of people who know themselves really well. Add art and fitness in all it’s forms to your life so you know your likes and dislikes, your strengths and where you can apply your mind to achieve more. All helping you to get to love yourself from your brain to your bones.

You get one chance at this life. When we share  workout or a creative class or a story with friends we thrive again. Our psychological and our physical wellbeing are enhance by connection.

If you want to come from behind the computer screen to connect with people and your own creativity then join my art and wine workshops in Northern Ireland. I have just FIVE spots left in Goodness rocks June 14th on one of my workshops and ONLY seven left on the other in Cafe Smart june 28th. The other two workshops are sold out.

Check all details here and come let me teach you and to help you feel the benefits of art in your life. Beginners welcome. 

I am making a workout plan with a trainer and we are excited to share the load on this – Gareth has the tools for the physical side but he knows my love of gymnastics, pilates, swimming, running and emotional wellbeing therefore he has formulated a plan suited to the slower days too.

In the meantime my self acceptance e bundle is here and we also have a members group of women, like you and me who are on our journeys of self acceptance. A supportive network of women of all ages.

 Have a fab weekend and know your worth.