By Paige Sollins, LCSW-C
We often think exercise is important to manage our weight, improve our physical health, tone our muscles and feel good in a bathing suit. In fact, putting on those walking shoes, going for a swim or taking a bike ride can do all that plus.
Through exercise, we have the ability to reduce stress, increase feelings of happiness, improve self-esteem, boost energy, improve sleep, improve mental alertness and reduce worry (Sharma, A., Madaan, V., Petty, F.D., 2006). Michael Otto, Phd and Jasper Smitts, PhD have studied the benefits of exercise on emotional wellbeing. Their research has shown that exercise helps relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Otto suggests that we can understand the “mood-enhancing effect” of exercise by paying attention to our mental and emotional state. Try observing thoughts, feelings, outlooks, perspective and your sense of accomplishment before and then after participating in a form of physical activity. What do you notice? Some of the greatest shifts in perspective and strongest benefits are felt when exercising during those most difficult times (Weir, 2011).
While knowing how important it should be to incorporate physical fitness and movement into our daily lives, actually putting a plan into place can be challenging.
Consider these ways to enhance motivation and incorporate movement into your day:
- Participate in a functional form of exercise. Sometimes it is easier to justify spending time exercising when it is paired with a purpose. Try taking a walk to your grocery store or riding your bike to work. Use the stairs instead of the elevator to get to your office or an appointment. Try parking in a spot that’s further away from the store you’re shopping in.
- Group Classes. Some find it helpful to block a certain amount of fixed time into their schedule and are motivated by exercising with others. In group classes, the start and end time are known and the time can easily be accounted for. The workouts are guided and this can be used as a social outlet, too. Check your gym’s group fitness schedule or contact a local yoga studio.
- Find exercise that you enjoy. Consider all the forms of exercise: endurance, strengthening, balance and flexibility. What form(s) do you find most enjoyable? Do you like walking, running, swimming, dancing or biking? Consider spending some time lifting weights to strengthen muscles. Or, consider pilates, tai-chi or yoga to improve balance and enhance flexibility. If you have fun exercising, it will be easier to find the motivation and time to follow through on your plan.
- Making time for exercise. There are countless excuses that justify taking the day off: not in the mood, it’s raining out, it’s too cold, it’s too hot, there’s an important errand to run. The list goes on and on. Set yourself up for success. Save time in your day for exercise and think of physical activity options that give you the flexibility to meet the unpredictable demands of life without compromising your fitness goals. How can you exercise indoors or at home? What types of movement based activities can you do with your family?
- Set realistic goals. Set expectations for yourself that are achievable given your schedule and responsibilities. See if there is a way to make physical activity one of your top priorities. Exercise does not have to be all or nothing. If you’re running late and cannot make your 5:30pm group fitness class, think about what you could do instead. Maybe you have time for a 20 minute walk, to lift free weights or stretch at home.
Beginning a physical fitness routine may be difficult at first as your body takes time to adjust to increased heart rate, sore muscles and your schedule might require some altering. And, with perseverance and dedication there are great physical and emotional benefits to be gained through an active lifestyle and movement.
By Paige Sollins, LCSW-C, JCS Therapy Services
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.
Sharma, A., Madaan, V., Petty, F.D. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Kirsten Weir (2011). The Exercise effect. American Psychological Association, 42( 11), 48.