When we want to feel better mentally, we need to look at our total state of well-being. The way we think, the way we eat, and the way we move all have an effect on how we feel. An easy way to improve your mood is to do some form of exercise. In today’s world, we have been conditioned to believe that we have to go all out, and the “no pain no gain” mentality prevails. This is not the case at all. Of course, as we become more conditioned, we need to do more to challenge our body; but for those if us who are not already following a regular exercise routine, the most important thing is to just get moving!
Exercise is nature’s antidepressant. Regular exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that exercise increases the synthesis of new neurons in the brain, which is the same effect reported through the use of antidepressant medication.
Helps keep cholesterol in check. Regular exercise lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL, i.e. “bad cholesterol”), and raises high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL, i.e. “good cholesterol”).
Reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Exercise keeps our blood sugar levels under control, by helping our muscles circulate insulin. Muscles that are exercised take up blood sugar more easily and use sugar more efficiently.
Improves Sleep. Exercise can help us sleep more restfully. People who regularly exercise tend to fall asleep faster and stay asleep. I am sure we have all witnessed how the lack of a good night’s sleep can affect our mood and our mental abilities!
Helps us mange our weight. Achieving and maintaining a proper weight has obvious health benefits, as well as having an affect on our mental state. When we are more physically fit we have more confidence in ourselves, and when we have a more healthy appearance, our self-esteem is elevated. We can feel good AND look good!
Exercise does not have to mean spending hours at the gym or buying expensive workout equipment. You can get a very effective workout doing something as simple and enjoyable as walking. In fact, it has been shown that regular, brisk walking can reduce the risk of heart attack as much as jogging! Walking is a gentle, low impact aerobic exercise that can be done anywhere, anytime. Walking outside, you get the added benefits of fresh air and a change of scenery, but there are also lots of indoor walking programs that are very effective (Leslie Sansone has some great indoor walking DVDs!).
Here are a few things to remember when beginning a walking routine:
1. Warm up: Walk slowly or in place for 5 minutes to get the blood flowing. Once your muscles are warm, take a few minutes to do some stretching. Focus in on your quads, calves, hamstrings and the achilles, as well as your iliotibial band (hip and outer thigh)
2. Posture: Stand up straight; use good form. Head up, arms at your sides swinging naturally.
3. Intensity: You should try and walk as fast as you can while still maintaining the ability to hold a conversation. If you are out of breath and not not able to speak normally, you are going too fast. How long should you walk? Most experts recommend at least 20 minutes of exercise. If you are just starting out, do what feels right for YOU. In my opinion, anything is better than nothing!
4. Cool down: Just as you warmed up before your walk, make sure to take the time to cool down. Slow down your walk for the last 5 minutes to lower your heart rate, and then repeat the series of stretches.
*As always, you should consult your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.