Getting out and moving can be easier said than done. There are often various obstacles fighting against our pursuit of movement. We might have the best of intentions to move and then find ourselves sprawled on the couch instead. Perhaps you have never experienced the value of movement and therefore do not consider it a priority. Whatever the rationale, here are several reasons why movement can be incredibly valuable, not only for our physical health but also for our mental well being.
Most of us have grown up learning that movement is beneficial for our physical health. It is a topic every year of school in P.E., Health class, and even with various sports teams. Regular exercise can result in a healthy body weight, reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease, stronger bones and muscles, and longer overall life span that contests against cancer, obesity, and stroke. Exercise can also help boost your immune system which is particularly important during the current pandemic.
Did you know that regular exercise can also benefit your mental health and brain functioning?
The Big Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health
There are several benefits of movement with regards to improving and maintaining mental wellness. According to researchers Robinson, Segal, and Smith, some of these benefits include: better sleep, more energy, sharper memory and thinking, higher self-esteem, and better resilience. In short, exercise helps us feel more confident in ourselves, improves the functioning of our brain, supports our body to work better, and makes us mentally stronger.
However, there is another incredible benefit of exercise that cannot be underscored enough. Exercise releases chemicals in our brain that help us feel HAPPY! Have you ever felt down and for some reason felt better after getting out and moving? There are very good reasons for that including the release of dopamine and endorphins in your brain when you exercise. Some runners even report feeling a “runner’s high” due to the chemical responses of the brain while running or participating in more rigorous exercise.
Here is a reflection that explains the chemical processes in the brain when we exercise and how these chemical reactions can benefit us:
Let’s Get Serious
Exercise may help you feel happier, but can it also help manage more significant emotional challenges? ABSOLUTELY!
Robinson, Segal, and Smith also highlight that exercise is a natural anxiety treatment and can help manage mild or moderate depression as effectively as with medication. Additionally, the chemical reactions that occur in the brain while exercising can promote better concentration and focus which reduces concern for hyperactivity and impulsivity. Exercise also helps release tension in your muscles and body which in turn reduces feelings of stress. Additionally, being mindful while exercising can help with the effects of a number of different problematic health conditions linked to raw emotions.
Mindfulness and Exercise
People are becoming more and more aware of the benefits of mindfulness activities; you may even participate in mindfulness exercises in your classes. When you think of a mindfulness activity you may think of a breathing exercise involving sitting up straight and still with your eyes closed while you focus on each part of your body or the very breath you are taking while listening to calm music.
This is not the only means by which we can practice mindfulness and reap its benefits. You can also engage in mindfulness when you are exercising to the benefit of your mental health.
According to the author Mead, “Directed meditation combined with running or walking helped to reduce symptoms of depression for depressed participants by almost 40 percent.”
So what does meditating while moving look like?
Meditation during exercise involves calming your mind before beginning the activity, focusing on your breathing while exercising, paying attention to what you’re feeling in your body, noticing when you foot hits the pavement, removing your headphones so you can focus on your body and surroundings, paying attention to your thoughts, and reflecting on the experience when you are finished.
Now What? How Do We Pursue Movement?
As stated earlier, it can be an uphill battle to get ourselves to move, but there are some simple steps you can take to make it easier. First, do something you like. If you do not like running, do not run. If you like playing basketball, then play basketball! Whatever it is you choose to do, make sure it is something you ultimately enjoy. This will result in a higher likelihood of consistent participation in the activity.
Secondly, start small. Stop aiming for goals that you will unlikely achieve because doing so will result in discouragement and disengagement. This may mean: starting with just 5-10 minutes of movement a day, not pushing yourself as hard as you want to or think you should, and perhaps exercising 2-3 days a week as opposed to 5-7 days. It is important to create goals for yourself but make sure they are reasonable and achievable goals!