When people hear about taking care of their mental health they often isolate it to what goes on in the brain. However, you cannot separate the brain from the body or the mental from the physical. The body is made from many different parts and there is no question that they impact each other. That is why taking a wholistic approach to mental health is critical to all of us.
Last week I talked about taking our MEDS which is an acronym that translates to M-meditation, E-Exercise, D-diet and S-sleep. We talked about meditation in our previous blog, but this week we will spend some time on exercise.
Why Exercise is Important to Mental Health
Let’s take a look at a few mental health issues and why exercise is so important. Have you ever felt the kind of stress where your entire body tightens up? It feels like your shoulders and neck have landed in your ears, your back feels like a “U” turn, and your head is about to explode? You may also suffer from insomnia, heartburn, excessive eating and other addictive behaviors. Sound familiar? The tightness and pain in your body feed off of mental health issues in your brain and visa-a-versa. When the two get going in concert it creates a vicious cycle that is hard to break and becomes absolutely exhausting.
Taking a Wholistic Approach
As a physical therapist, I have always been a fitness fanatic and exercised religiously for years. There is no doubt that exercise helps me physically, but that is not the biggest reason why I keep doing it. Being a single parent raising a child with special needs has brought on stress, anxiety, and even depression. If I did not exercise daily, I would pay the consequences. I hate the feelings that come from not taking care of my mental health. It impacts not only me, but everyone around me! That alone is my biggest motivation to exercise and keeping physically active.
Research Overwhelmingly Supports Exercise
A recent study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication because physical activity immediately increase the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels. Physical activity can be a powerful and natural way to help you without all the side effects of some medications.
Develop Positive Habits
Do you hate exercise? You are not alone. I don’t get up in the morning excited to jump on the treadmill, bike, or weight lift. I just know if I don’t, my day will suffer. As I have gotten older, I have also started to stretch and do yoga for 10 minutes before I go to bed. I don’t love it and many times all I want to do is get my head on the pillow. However, when I take that 10 minutes, I cannot tell you how much better I sleep and feel. Couple that with a little meditation and it can be life changing.
Changing small habits and taking a step at a time is the best way to start. For years, my children have also joined me in exercise and do it on their own as well. Exercise is a family affair that we all do and take seriously! Your example and attitude toward exercise has an impact on your family!
Discuss how to get started with your medical professionals and begin to take a look at increasing your physical activity under their advice and direction. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t appreciate the time I put into my physical body and exercise. My mental health and well-being thank me for it daily!
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