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Get Moving for Mental Health


Most of us are aware of the benefits that exercise can have on our physical well-being. However, many of us still don't do it. Instead, we explain away our reasons for not exercising with countless excuses. And I'll admit, I'm the first to resort to "doing it tomorrow" because "I just don't have time today."

It is now known that exercise not only benefits us physically, but also mentally. Exercise has been found to considerably reduce anxiety and depression. In fact, exercise is so beneficial to our mental health that it has even been found to be as successful in treating conditions such as depression as other available treatment methods. For many, exercise results in an improved mood, less stress and fatigue, more energy, and less mental decline (Mental Health Foundation, 2005).

Exactly why exercise works so well in improving our mental well-being is not exactly known. However, it is suggested that learning the new skills that come along with starting a new exercise program gives the confidence necessary to deal with depression symptoms. Additionally, exercise distracts us from thinking about our problems, increases our self-esteem, and allows us to release feelings of anger and frustration in a healthy manner (Craft, 2005).

Just how beneficial exercise is to our mental health depends on a number of factors. These factors include the:

  • Type of exercise program (e.g. walking, jogging, aerobics, etc…)
  • Duration of the program
  • Individual's initial level of fitness and activity
  • Individual's mental health status

How to get started

For those of us who have tried, we know how difficult it can be to maintain an exercise program. Perhaps you've even intended to begin exercising for a long time but haven't actually got going. However, by reading this article and educating yourself, you have already taken the first step in making a lifestyle change. Here are some tips to help get you on the way to living a healthier way of life:

  • Identify what is preventing you from exercising in the first place - Is it a lack of money? Find a way that you can get exercise without breaking your bank. Don't feel you have the time? Setting aside even 30 minutes a day for exercise can result in considerable benefits. Consider the benefits of exercising as opposed to costs of not doing so. Not motivated? Make yourself get moving...it will be worth it.
  • Form a plan. - Develop an exercise plan including your goals and the steps it will take to reach it. Be specific and be willing to modify the plan as often as needed.
  • Start small. - Set realistic goals so you don't set yourself up for disappointment. For example, "I will walk briskly for 30 minutes three days this week" is a much more attainable goal than "I will run a marathon in two months".
  • Get motivated! - As hard as it may seem to find the energy or drive to begin exercising, finding the right incentive will help to get you moving. Plan to exercise with a friend. Join a gym. Reward yourself frequently to stay motivated.
  • Get help. - Ask friends, family, and anyone else around you to help support you in achieving your goals.
  • Use moderation. - As with anything, too much exercise can be unhealthy. Don't overwork yourself.
  • Don't give up! - Just as it is hard to begin exercising, it is equally as difficult to keep exercising. Continue to reward yourself for sticking with it and monitor your progress frequently to help keep you on track.

Remember that any activity is better than no activity at all. Exercise does not have to be vigorous in order to be effective. Physical activity can include even light housework or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. However, keep in mind that different amounts of activity result in different effects.

By putting exercise on the backburner, not only are we preventing our body from being in its ultimate condition, but we are also not allowing our minds to be performing at their best. Now that you've seen the many benefits exercise can bring as well as what you can do to get started, it's time to get into gear! Exercise may not be the answer to all our problems, but it's certainly worth a try…and keeping that in mind, I think I better get moving!

Consult with your doctor or other health professional before beginning an exercise program if you have concerns regarding your mental or physical health.

Provided by CIGNA Behavioral Health, thanks to Nicole Teague.


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