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IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH WITH EXERCISE!


It’s that time of year when the weather is getting colder, we rarely see the sun and understandably, just want to stay indoors and hibernate.

Though holidays are meant to spread joy, it’s also a time when our thoughts may darken just like the gray skies.  If you or someone you love struggles with depression, anxiety, PTSD, seasonal affective disorder, ADHD, or even just daily stress, this blog is for you!

Many of us turn to exercise for its many physical benefits such as losing weight, staying healthy and getting stronger.  But exercise can also be a very powerful “drug” used to combat mental and emotional stressors. 

While the physical health benefits of exercise are often discussed, the link between exercise and mental health is often overlooked. Exercise does naturally what scientists in the pharmaceutical world have been creating for decades. In fact, mental health professionals often prescribe exercise as part of the treatment for mental illness.

 When you have depression or anxiety, exercise can be the last thing you want to do.  However, once you get motivated, exercise can make a big difference in your life and the lives of those around you.  In today’s blog, you are going to learn:

  1. How exercise helps decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety

  2. The BEST exercise for maximal benefits (and how often to be doing it)

  3. How to get started on the path to feeling better 😊


6 WAYS EXERCISE IMPROVES OUR MENTAL HEALTH

 Studies continue to show the impact exercise has on both our mental and emotional well being. In fact, here are 6 specific ways regular exercise can help ease your depression, anxiety and daily life stressors:

  1. Less stress, MORE feel-good endorphins: Exercise decreases stress hormones such as cortisol while increasing endorphins; your body’s natural feel-good chemicals giving your brain and mood a natural boost.

  2. Healthy Distraction: When exercising, you mentally get in the “zone” and shift focus to how your body is moving and what you’re doing. This makes it harder for you to focus on negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety. 

  3. Confidence Booster: Exercise gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself and do things you didn’t know you could do! Achieving goals like losing weight, moving better, getting stronger, seeing changes in physical appearance are just some of the many benefits of exercising that not only improve your mood, but also boost your confidence. 

  4. Strength in Numbers: Mental illness or even seemingly simple life stressors can often make you feel alone and isolated. We all know there is strength in numbers.  Joining a gym, taking group classes or playing a team sport allows you the opportunity to meet like minded people who can support and encourage you on your fitness and/or life journey. 

  5. Coping Mechanism: Exercise/physical activity is a positive, healthy coping strategy for dealing with stress, anxiety and depression.  Many may turn to alcohol, drug use, overeating, or other unhealthy habits to deal with or drown out stress. Long term, this only worsens our mental health symptoms and becomes a vicious cycle.  Exercise provides a constructive, healthy outlet to manage stress that leaves you better physically, mentally and emotionally!

  6. Better Health: Stress can cause illness, but did you know illness can also cause stress? Regular exercise improves overall health by strengthening the immune system, (boosting our ability to fight of colds, the flu and other minor illnesses) and increasing longevity. This allows us to live healthy, happy lives with less stress.


THE BEST EXERCISE FOR MAXIMUM BENEFIT

Physical activity and exercise are not the same thing, but BOTH are beneficial to your health. 

  • Physical activity refers to ALL movement requiring energy use from the body.  This can be during work, leisure time or simply walking.

    Some examples of physical activity include going for a walk around the block, gardening, doing housework, washing your car, shoveling snow, raking leaves, and playing outside with children and/or pets. 

  • Exercise is a planned, structured, repetitive, movement done to improve or maintain physical fitness. 

    Some examples of exercise include strength training/ lifting weights, playing sports, swimming, yoga, tai chi, running, or cycling.  These types of exercises have been proven to improve overall psychological health and mood. 

It is important to find physical activities and/or exercise that YOU personally find appealing and enjoy doing. Level of enjoyment is crucial to success and sticking with it for the long haul!

It is also important to broaden our scope when it comes to physical activity.  Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, biking to work instead of driving or parking a little further away from the store to allow for a short walk are simple, easy ways to do MORE mood boosting physical activity throughout your day. 

How Much Exercise is Needed?

Doing 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 days a week may significantly improve depression and anxiety symptoms but, as little as 10-15 minutes of physical activity at a time may make a difference!  More vigorous activities may improve your mood faster in less time, think strength training/lifting weights, running, cycling, or taking an aerobic exercise class.  Finding a fitness routine you can stick with in the long-term will hands down provide the most mental health benefits. 


HOW TO GET STARTED TODAY

Once your doctor or mental health care provider gives the approval to begin exercising, you will want to spend some time exploring what types of exercise and physical activities are right for you. 

Again, the key to sticking to any exercise program or routine is finding something you enjoy doing and will keep you motivated to keep doing it.  Things to consider:

  • Would it be helpful to hire a coach/trainer at a gym to keep you motivated and moving safely?

  • Would you like to take a class such as yoga, Pilates, or an aerobics class in a group atmosphere?

  • Would you enjoy a cycling class where you can zone out and jam out to your favorite tunes? 

These are some key questions to ask yourself when choosing what works best for you regarding exercise.  After finding the right exercise routine for you, here are some tips to keep you on track:

1.  Don’t overdo it: Start slowly and be sure not to push yourself to extremes that can lead to injury.  Remember, you are in this for the long haul so gradually increasing your exercise/physical activity over time is the best way to go.

2.  Set reasonable goals:  Think about what exercise routine will fit into your schedule and will allow you small successes.  Trying to cram in 5 days of 60 minutes of physical activity/exercise to an already busy/full schedule will only lead to increased stress and decreased motivation to continue your program. 

3.  Make a commitment to your exercise plan:  Schedule your exercise sessions like you would any other important appointment in your life.  Prioritizing your health and well being by setting aside time for physical activity/exercise program is key to successful long-term outcomes for your physical and mental health. 

4. Prepare for setbacks and obstacles:  We all know the initial honeymoon phase of starting something new fades over time.  Keep this in mind realizing that missing one of your scheduled exercise days does not mean you have failed and should give up.  Instead, jump right back into your next scheduled session.  Be kind and always give yourself credit for small steps in the right direction and stay the course. 

5.  Experiment with different strategies to keep on track: If you struggle with exercise first thing in the morning, try planning your session for the afternoon or later in the day.  If you find working out in a group environment is increasing your stress, trying doing it alone.  If you find it hard to stay motivated, find an exercise buddy to walk with or take a class with.  Be willing to keep experimenting to find what works best for you!



 

Keep living healthy, happy + strong!

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