Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Get some exercise!
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Sweat dripping off your brow … heart rate soaring … muscles throbbing … sinews and tendons quivering. Is this a healthy word picture? ABSOLUTELY!
Most of us know the many physical benefits of exercise: weight control, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of diabetes, increased energy and even better skin, to name a few.
But did you know that there are tremendous mental health benefits from exercise, too? From easing symptoms of depression and anxiety to keeping one’s memory sharp, there are myriad positive mental health benefits to physical exertion on a regular basis.
Oh, it’s true that many who exercise regularly do so simply because it makes them feel good and feel accomplished. Exercise can boost your mood, concentration and alertness. It even provides a bright outlook on life for those who engage in it consistently!
And that old fact of life – STRESS – is moderated when one exercises regularly! Sounds like a no-brainer … get active, get active consistently and reap the benefits galore! Need more proof?
- Help for depression and anxiety! Physical activity kicks up endorphin levels, the body’s natural “feel good” chemical produced in the brain and spinal cord that creates feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies show that even moderate exercise can significantly impact depression and anxiety … so much so that many psychiatrists prescribe exercise before they prescribe medication.
- Improved self-esteem and self-confidence! Of course, a consistent exercise program will have positive results – healthier weight, defined muscle tone and stronger endurance. As you begin to see and feel the fruits of your labor, you can’t help but feel good! You may be the one at the office who casually says, “Yeah, that was me out jogging. I ran 3 miles today!” What an accomplishment!
- Decreased stress! Studies show that by increasing your heart rate consistently, you actually can attack and even reverse stress-induced brain damage by stimulating the production of neurohormones – these will improve cognition, mood and sideways thinking that has been affected by stress. You see, it seems that your exercise regimen can force the body’s central and sympathetic nervous systems to communicate with one another, improving the body’s overall ability to respond to stress.
- Better sleep! Exercise can normalize sleep – and we know that better sleep helps you regulate your moods more effectively. Nothing like exercising hard, showering, having a full day of positive results from the exercise, then falling into bed on that soft pillow of sound sleep!
- Provides an outlet for negative emotions! When you are feeling overwhelmed or angry or frustrated and your moods are affected in a negative way, you may become prickly – that is, you may be overreacting to every little thing – which then begins to cycle and reinforce those negative emotions. BUT, as you exercise, you actually can feel the weight of the day falling off of you, you can feel the overactive nature of your negative emotions get back in bounds and you can feel mastery over the quality of your day again!
The really excellent news about exercise is that it doesn’t need to be strenuous and/or take a long time. You actually will begin to feel immediate results once you get started.
Studies show that a moderate level of exercise is enough to make a BIG positive impact on your mental health. (Moderate means walking quite briskly but still being able to talk to someone beside you.)
Some tips to get started:
- Choose an activity that you enjoy … so that you will stick with it!
- Build up your stamina and activity level gradually. (Don’t set out to run 5 miles; set out to jog four blocks.)
- Write down and commit to a plan, set out your exercise clothes the night before, keep a log of your successes and feel the myriad positive outcomes!
Yes, it is very, very hot outside! But just think how you’ll feel going about the rest of your day when the beginning of your day includes exercise. Get sweaty, raise that heart rate, feel the exertion on your muscles, sinews and tendons … ah, there’s not much better than knowing that you already have accomplished more than most people will all day (and perhaps it’s only 6 a.m.)
Enjoy yourself, feel accomplished and know that a little sweat never hurts anyone!
(P.S. – Always consult your physician before starting any new exercise regimen!)