Some mental health benefits that have been demonstrated as a result of regular exercise include:
Improved sleep (Do you get enough?)
Stress relief (When did you take a deep breath?)
Improved mood (Are people calling you GRUMPY?)
Increased energy, stamina, and mental alertness (Be your Best!)
Research dating back to 1981, and confirmed and extended since then, shows that regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressants for alleviating long-term depression. Or, even better—the effects of regular exercise can last longer than antidepressant drugs. Be aware, though, that we’re talking about serious commitment here: if your exercise is walking, you should be doing “fast walking” for about 35 minutes a day, five days a week (or 60 minutes a day, three times a week), according to the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report “Exercise and Depression.” Less can help, too, but you won’t be reaping the full benefits.
There are a variety of theories about how and why exercise improves mental health:
Workouts can increase body chemicals (such as serotonin) that are known to affect feelings of well-being.
It has been shown that exercise can help to establish regular and normal sleep patterns.
Sticking to a regular exercise regimen can help provide a sense of accomplishment and make you feel good about yourself.
Here are some general guidelines for developing and maintaining an active lifestyle so that you can reap the physical and mental benefits of exercise:
- Consult with your health care provider. Before beginning an exercise program talk to your doctor about what will work best for you.
- Identify barriers. Think about what prevents you from exercising and address it head on. Too tired at the end of your day? Exercise in the morning or at lunchtime. Not comfortable in a gym? Exercise at home or in your daily life: take the stairs instead of the elevator or park farther from the entrance at work. Find out what is stopping you, you may be sabotaging your own best efforts.
- Set goals—and track them. Write down why you want to exercise, set realistic goals, and track your achievements. Seeing on paper all that you have accomplished can boost motivation. Writing a exercise journal or food diary will increase your success!
- Don’t do it alone. Exercising with a partner, such as a spouse, friend, co-worker, or neighbor, can help increase your level of commitment by being accountable to someone else.
- Have fun. Exercise comes in many forms, so find things you enjoy: walking, jogging, dancing, yoga, or team sports, such as softball, soccer, basketball, etc.
- Keep going. The best way to stick with your exercise is to just keep it up. If you miss a few days—or even a few weeks—don’t throw in the towel. Remember to focus on your accomplishments, no matter how small. And continue trying.
- Celebrate! Reward yourself for meeting a goal….. but not with food, try a massage or a movie or a gold star. It can be off-beat or make you laugh, but learning how to Pat Yourself on the Back is a great skill.