Fitness and Mental Health

Alright, the holidays are over and it’s that time of year again where we tend to be more aware of how our jeans fit and where we sit on our scales. Making time for exercise can initially feel overwhelming and as another burden on the “to-do” list. Cutting out time to care for our mental health can seem burdensome enough without adding on planned exercise. But there is good news- these two goals can be met simultaneously! There is a strong interconnectedness between physical fitness and mental health. This is because exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins are endogenous opioid inhibitory neuropeptides produced by the central nervous system. Endorphins positively impact our wellbeing by reducing painful feelings. In fact, endorphins are often described as a natural morphine that is produced by the body (without the negative consequences of actual morphine!). The increases in endorphins promoted by exercise leads to improved self-esteem. When it comes to mental health, regular exercise has other attributes as well. In addition to improved self-esteem exercise is linked to reduced stress, anxiety and depression as well as improvements in sleep. Therefore it is of little surprise that regular planned exercise is found to be as effective as a prescription antidepressant! WebMD describes exercise as an underused treatment for depression. A balanced exercise program complements therapy and is a great way to help achieve a healthy and happy lifestyle.

                All skill levels can find a form of exercise that works for them. If you are a beginner consider this a great opportunity to explore new adventures. Keep in mind the value of thinking positively. Focus on what interests and inspires you without dwelling on what has not worked in the past. A brisk half hour walk after dinner or before work in the morning is a simple, affordable and effective starting point. In beginning a new exercise program, it is most effective to focus on frequency rather than intensity. Begin with a planned physical activity 2-3 times per week, then after several weeks try to increase the frequency to at least 3-4 times per week. Once you have the frequency down, increasing intensity will come somewhat naturally. Other great options are to try an exercise class at a local gym, YMCA or other community center. Classes are a fun and effective option for several reasons. One is that there are so many to choose from. Yoga, Zumba, cardio- kickboxing and water aerobics are just a few options. Another reason is that classes are lead by instructors whom not only make sure you get a good work out, but also help ensure proper form to prevent the risk of injury. Finally, many find it motivational to participate in a group exercise format. Over the course of the class, participants begin to get to know each other. Many find this aspect extremely positive as it facilitates an encouraging environment to stick with the class. However, some find a solo exercise experience to be more rewarding. Trying multiple forms of exercise is likely the best way to figure out what will work best for you. Remember, the key to beginning any exercise regime is to be patient! If you do not enjoy the form of exercise you are experiencing, try something different. Be patient with your progress and with yourself if you miss a day. Remember it is a continual effort, perfection is not realistic and it’s ok to make mistakes along the way. Hang in there! It is important to find what works best for oneself and to resist the urge of comparing ourselves with others. A rewarding exercise program is a personal quest. With patience, perseverance and a positive attitude, you will find something that works for you. Most people begin to feel results in about six weeks after beginning a fitness program. So strap on a pair of supportive shoes, throw on some comfy workout clothes and get start pumping those endorphins!