We just passed Mental Health Awareness Day on Saturday the 11th. In light of it, we thought it would be an ideal time to discuss the connection between our physical bodies and minds as it relates to fitness.
Our minds, a powerful machine
Our minds are truly a powerful machine that can lead us to beautiful places in our imagination and our dreams, push us to persevere when we're on the verge of throwing the towel, and even send us alerts and signals when something isn't quite right. We can experience these signals in multiple forms and it's important to pay attention to what those warning signs are communicating as they may be telling us something extremely important about our health.
When we experience something as awful as depression, or anxiety, or any other mental illness that limits and hinders you from taking action, we should know that we can make our minds as powerful or as weak as we want and that there are ways of reversing a weak state of mind. For a lot of people, it can feel like their brain just stops working under these mental states. Putting this in a different perspective, doing the opposite of what your mind and body is requesting - staying in for days at a time, skipping meals, or isolating yourself - is in many cases the right solution to increase resilience. Move when you don't feel like moving.
This can definitely be easier said than done. When it feels like you've lost control over your own mind it can be hard to cope with very strong emotions and this is fatiguing to the mind and of course the body. Our minds are extremely powerful and complex. When we think of it like a feedback loop, one lack of action enhances another, so it becomes a negative domino effect, what will be one step you can take to prevent the pieces from collapsing unto each other? One of the most effective steps is, drum roll please . . . .
Yup! EXERCISE!! STRETCH!!
What does research tell us?
The depth and complexity of our minds is vast, and growing research pushes us to understand the way our minds work every day, a little bit better than before. Truly fascinating, however, is how the billions of neurons in our brain communicate to and from our physical bodies. This opens plenty of intriguing questions. One of them being, how can exercising daily impact our mental ability? What does current research tell us about the role exercise plays in overall mental health?
One October 2018 study revealed "a bidirectional relationship between physical activity, exercise and adolescent mental health" and it also indicated that, "exercise and physical activity might be an effective universal depression prevention intervention for young people." Think about how important it is to play a role in spreading these facts to those around us. Those who feel stuck. What if we consider developing campaigns about it in order to demonstrate just how important exercise can be for mental illnesses, especially for today's youth who is experiencing higher rates of depression than ever.
What if we expand the concept of "it's healthy/good to exercise," to "exercise is preventative medicine," and transform the belief that exercise is a personal choice to "it is a necessity." Of course, coercion will never work, but people will accept what they choose. Nonetheless, it is our job to spread the word about personal testimonies and transformations of what exercise has done in our life. And even better, seek to hold someone accountable or motivate those who need the help to maintain the commitment to exercise. This will be one the greatest things we can do.
Another study found that the rates at which exercising regularly can lower rates of depression puts exercise as an alternative to taking anti-depressants. This shouldn't mean that if you already take medication, you should stop, or if your doctor thinks it is the right thing for you in the meantime that you shouldn't start the recommended treatment. It is an alternative treatment that can complement your current one. However, in the study, there was no difference in effectiveness noted in participants who took medication versus those who only exercised. Overtime, however, consistent exercise did end up being statistically significant in preventing relapse of depressive symptoms in the future whereas taking only medication did not.
What can exercise do for me?
Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, increases those "feel good" hormones. It stabilizes mood and enhances clarity of mind. It is a natural de-stresser. On top of that, a bonus is getting stronger and more fit in the end, therefore increasing confidence. It may help increase optimism, productivity, and lower negative feelings about life in general.
There are so many types of exercise out there that it is really up to you to find what works for you. A few weeks ago a roommate was telling me about an app that gives you a free trial through "credits" that allows you to sign up for multiple workout classes in your area. I decided to sign up and give it a try. It was honestly one of the best decisions I could have made! I tried cycling for the first time and pilates and other types of yoga classes. Another benefit is that you don't have to stick to one type of physical activity.
The app allows you to reserve class times for a variety of classes. You can workout as little as you want or as much as you want until your credits run out. Isn't that awesome? (Btw I am not advertising for this!)
This could be a solution for many people who don't know where to start or how to exercise. Give ClassPass a try. Download it on your App Store. If you don't like it there are others to choose from.
It is ok not to stick to exercise routines
As a final word, I want to make sure everyone knows so that you let others around you know that if you don't stick to it, that isn't a problem. The problem comes when you lose the habit forever. Does something have to be done every single day for it to be classified as a habit? I personally don't think so. Especially when the habit itself is a positive one. One can only encourage others to make an effort every week to get as much exercise as they can, even if its in their own room, as a way to break free from their own minds, to intervene the fatigue, and to clarify the mind and feel less heaviness of negative emotions. Ultimately, the goal is to gain more strength as time passes and take more steps forward than steps back.
Exercise is for a mental boost, no matter the day, the hour, the place.