Exercise and Mental Health

We have all been told that exercise is good for the body, but did you know it is also good for your mind? Doctors have argued that exercise can actually be one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health and the good news is, you don’t have to spend hours at the gym to reap the benefits. Even a modest amount of exercise can do the trick. You can feel better regardless of your age, overall health, or fitness level.

While it sounds easy, there are many very real obstacles to exercising, especially when living with a mood disorder. Common symptoms of mental health conditions such as feeling exhausted, overwhelmed or hopeless, feeling physical pain or feeling bad about yourself may make committing to an exercise routine more difficult. This is especially true when feeling depressed or anxious. You know the exercise will make you feel better, but depression and/or anxiety has robbed you of the motivation and confidence you need to exercise. The ultimate catch-22.

After doing some internet surfing and a bit of self-reflection as well, I came up with 5 tips to get started exercising, even when you are feeling anxious or depressed. And yes, I intend to try these tips out myself, since I have yet to use that gym I joined a few weeks ago.

Starting small is not only okay, it is smart. When you haven’t exercised for a long time, setting lofty goals like completing a marathon or working out for an hour every morning is setting you up for failure and will leave you more depressed or frustrated if you fall short. It is best to set small, achievable goals and go bigger as you progress.

Schedule your workout during the time of day when your energy level is highest. This could be first thing in the morning, at lunchtime or over the weekend. Find the time when you typically feel best and build on that. For those of us with depression or anxiety who may not get that high point, there are days when they leave us feeling tired and motivated all day. On those days, remember that any activity is better than no activity. Even a short 15 minute walk can improve your mood and boost your energy level.

Focus on activities you enjoy. For me, exercise brings with it images of lifting weights at a gym, running on a treadmill or swimming lap; none of which are things I enjoy. In reality, exercise can also mean turning up the music and dancing and taking a class like Zumba, yoga or aerobics. Doing things like gardening, completing a home improvement project or cleaning can give you a sense of accomplishment while giving you an exercise boost.

Reward yourself. No, not with an ice cream sundae! Part of the reward is how much better you will feel after doing the exercise, but it never hurts to promise yourself a little treat on top of that. Reward yourself with a relaxing bath, a smoothie, or a quiet hour with a good book.

Make it a social event. Exercising with a friend or loved one is not only more enjoyable, it helps motivate you to stick to a workout routine. It may also make you feel better than when you are exercising alone. That is especially true if you are living with a mental health disorder. Sometimes the companionship can be just as important as the exercise.

As I get ready to head out to the gym and start my exercise routine, I would love to hear other tips or challenges from those of you who share this double challenge of trying to stay healthy in body and in mind.

Written By: Nikki Rashes

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