We know that alopecia can be challenging. It can be hard to find the words to express how it affects us and sometimes we just flat out don’t want to talk about it. While we encourage people to share some of the difficult feelings (a problem shared is a problem halved and all that), you might find this difficult in day-to-day life. Instead, you might prefer to try things that provide more of a practical solution to boost your mood. Physical exercise can help.

You might ask the question - how will physical exercise help my alopecia? Well, unfortunately, there isn’t evidence to suggest that doing more exercise will make your hair regrow but don’t stop reading there. Whilst physical exercise is not a cure for hair loss, we know from the science that it can contribute to a healthier lifestyle and improve your mood. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing many long-term health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Research also shows that physical exercise can boost self-esteem, improve mood, lead to better quality sleep, and increase energy levels. Sleeping better gives us more energy and lifts mood, making us feel more able to cope with things life throws at us. What we are doing is giving ourselves the best chance to thrive.

The problem is, if we feel rubbish, the last thing we want to do is to go for a run or go to the gym. It is more often the case that people think ‘I will do that when I’m feeling better’. Unfortunately, our motivation kicks in much later. It’s a bit like an experiment. We need to do something to see what the effect is. In this case we need to do something active – see the benefits and then we are more likely to do it again.

Many of the men with alopecia that we speak to tell us that exercise has really helped their mood and improved their confidence. For some, exercise started off as something to do to help them to feel better and improve their general health and over time they have joined running clubs and taken part in races, some even going on to do triathlons. You do not need to compete or take exercise to this level but the mood boosting effects can be so significant that people tell us they never expected to be at the level of fitness they are now. After a bad day, playing football, swimming, having a game of squash, or lifting weights can ease the mind and help to de-stress. With exercise its also about valuing what your body can do rather than what it can’t. It helps to find an activity you enjoy.

If you are thinking about doing more exercise you first need to consider where you are at now – this is your baseline. Consider what sort of lifestyle you have – is it a desk job or a job where you are constantly on your feet? You also need to think about your health. If you have concerns about your physical health and the impact exercise could have, speak to your GP first. You can find more information about the recommended physical activity levels here.

Some people find it helpful to set a target to work towards. This will depend on your starting point. For some it might be to walk for 30 minutes every day, for others it might be to swim a certain number of lengths of the pool. Having a goal gives you something to work towards so you can see your progress. Be realistic about your goals though otherwise this can worsen your mood.

We do hear from men that alopecia can be a problem when it comes to exercise. For those with loss of facial hair, like eyebrows and eyelashes, sweat can be an issue. You can tackle this by having a towel handy or some people use sweat bands. If going to the gym feels difficult consider, as a starting point, things that you can do at home. Weights, running, walking, skipping, high intensity work outs can all be done at home and sometimes are the preferred options as they are cheaper and there’s no travel involved. However, there can be benefits to joining a gym or a group (e.g., boxing/ martial arts/ football clubs) as you can meet others. Socialising can feel hard if confidence is an issue but when you are meeting people with a common interest and doing something active rather than sitting down for a chat it can take the edge off any social awkwardness you might be feeling. People are more focused on the task than thinking about your alopecia.

If you have any long term health conditions and are considering physical exercise, always consult with a medical practitioner first. There are several exercise programmes and apps you can subscribe to either for free or for a fee. Here are some free programmes/apps and videos you might want to try.

Get running with Couch to 5K - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Walking for health - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

The Body Coach TV - YouTube

InstructorLive homepage - instructorlive.com

Fitness Studio exercise videos - NHS (www.nhs.uk)