If you could be granted any 3 wishes what would they be?
- Do you want a Longer Life?
- How about Improved Memory?
- Maybe a little Happiness?
- A break from Stress?
- What about an effective Treatment for your Depression, your Anxiety, or your ADHD?
What if I told you that you can be granted all 5 of these wishes? I am about to tell you about one of the most effective methods of improving and maintaining our physical health AND our Mental Health.
No, I’m not selling new over the counter medications or products and I’m not publicizing some new miracle drug or magic pill! I’m talking about– Exercise!
For years we have known that exercise provides physical health benefits. We have ample evidence that it helps lower cholesterol, improve blood pressure, reduce weight when combined with a healthy diet, improve our lung and heart function, improve our circulation, and increase our overall flexibility and mobility. There is really no question that exercise of all kinds including cardiovascular exercise like fast walking, jogging, running, and biking, to name a few, as well as strength training like bands classes (flexible bands training) and weight lifting has many positive benefits on our physical health.
However, in the past decade numerous researchers have demonstrated that exercise also tremendously benefits our mental health and happiness in numerous ways. What are those, you ask?
- Help to improve our memory
- Decrease worry and anxiety in persons who suffer from anxiety disorders
- Help treat depression in people with mild to severe levels of depression
- Improve overall happiness and positive feelings
- Improve our self-esteem
- Help us to fall asleep faster, sleep longer and more restfully
Most of the research at this point suggests that exercise likely improves our memory and helps to control anxiety and depression symptoms by increasing a couple of different naturally produced chemicals in our body. One of those is the well known endorphins, which tend to bring about a sense of calm and help us to push through pain and stress. A second chemical that we naturally produce is called Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor or BDNF for short. BDNF appears to be a very important chemical, in that, it helps protect and stimulate the growth of our brain’s nerve cells. Thus, if we can do activities (like exercise) that increase our body’s natural ways of combatting stress and protecting (and possibly generating) those precious brain cells, why wouldn’t we?
Exercise also improves our memory, our stress management, and control over troubling mood states (like depression and anxiety) by generally raising our self-esteem, as we do more meaningful activities and see progress on our fitness goals. It feels good to move, increase our flexibility and strength, and build endurance. There is also a large body of research suggesting that improvement in sleep has a restorative effect on the brain and our mood. Exercise definitely improves our ability to fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and sleep more restfully. So, there are numerous ways that exercise improves our mood, stress, memory, and self-esteem and, if you’re careful about starting slowly and listening to your body, you can accomplish these benefits with VIRTUALLY NO SIDE EFFECTS.
So…How much exercise is needed to get these effects?
- Even brief walks at low intensity can improve mood and increase energy. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can have some positive effect.
- For the best psychological benefits, however, you should exercise at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes per session at a moderate intensity.
- Exercise programs that involve regular exercise and last at least 10 weeks work best for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety
- However, while it may take many weeks to see the physical benefits of exercise (although if you stick with it, you will), the mood-enhancing and stress reducing effects of exercise are much quicker.
Often when we’re stressed, frustrated, angry, anxious, or sad we grump at others, isolate or withdraw. However, next time you’re feeling one of these upsetting emotions try some aerobic exercise and then check your mood afterwards. I’ll bet you’ll find it’s a bit better.
What works for Me (and you)?
I have tried many different exercise programs over time and found some of them to work well for me and others… not so much. Every person has to find what works for them and what is motivating. Some people prefer aerobic exercise like running, jogging, walking, skating, and biking and others prefer weight training programs. Similarly, some people prefer exercising alone and taking the time as a break from the world while others exercise best when it’s a social activity.
Personally, I have found that a combination of aerobic activity and weight training along with a healthy diet in a social atmosphere does the job for me! I currently work out with the Farrell’s Extreme Body Shaping program here in Ames (for about a year now), under the direction of Lisa Wildman, and have experienced the best workout, fitness, and mental health of my life. I have made many friends there and have the deepest respect for the instructors and my fellow students. It’s a program based on cardio kickboxing, band training for muscle toning, a healthy eating lifestyle and tremendous social support, both in and out of class. While this program may not be for everyone, it’s made a huge positive difference in my life! Feel free to check it out if you like, as a new session starts this Saturday, June 9.
Everyone needs to find what works for them and I encourage you to explore different methods and find the one that works for you. Most importantly, remember that you have what you need in order to make a positive difference in your life. So, get moving (literally) and discover the happiness and improvement in mood, self-esteem, and sleep that you deserve!
Have a great and active summer everyone!