By: Casey Caldwell
How often do you exercise? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Not at all? We hear about and see the physical benefits of exercise on a regular basis, but do you know what all it does for the insides of our bodies, particularly our brains? Exercise* is a large piece of the puzzle of overall wellness, yet it is often neglected in the mental health field.
There is great evidence that suggests that exercise has many benefits on our mental health and wellbeing. For starters, research has revealed that active people are less depressed overall than inactive people. Exercise is also a great way to improve self-esteem and it has positive long and short term effects on cognitive function. Improvements in these areas are linked to lower levels of anxiety, depression, and negative mood. A good sweat sesh increases production and release of serotonin, the hormone largely responsible for mood regulation in the body. Just a few other benefits of exercise include stress relief, increased interest in sex, improved sleep, and better endurance overall.
Despite all of the evidence that supports exercise as a means of improving overall mental health and wellness, many still do not engage in a regular exercise routine. As an exercise-hater-turned-believer, I am familiar with all of the excuses for steering clear of the gym. When I finally put my excuses aside and leaned in to the discomfort of starting a new exercise routine, I found that I began to experience mental clarity, increased positive mood, and much less stress. I know that incorporating regular exercise in to your life can have similar affects and I’d like to share some of my knowledge to help you do so.
Remember, I am not an exercise expert, but below are some simple tips that I have found effective and that will help you ease in to an exercise routine of your own.
1. Start off slowly. Walk or jog for just a few minutes a day and then go from there.
2. Get social! Join a gym and/or grab a buddy. Accountability is important to success.
3. Find an activity that you actually enjoy. Hate running? Try a spin class or some weight lifting. A brisk walk is also a great and low impact way to exercise.
4. Set a goal, write it down, and reward yourself when you meet said goal.
Keep track of your post-workout moods in a journal or even in a note on your phone. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find!
*As with all things, it is important to practice exercise in moderation.
M.A. (Clinical Mental Health Counseling)
Individual adult and adolescent therapy; depression, anxiety; phase of life issues; low self-esteem; interpersonal difficulties; EMDR, trauma therapy.