As a teenager, I subconsciously believed that once I found the love of my life and got married, that I would live happily ever after. Marriage was the goal. Wedded bliss the happy ending to my life. Now, with almost 40 years of life experience, I look back and wonder what exactly I thought I was going to be doing for the next 60 plus years of my life after marriage? How was my foresight so short that my vision of life ended in riding off into the sunset at the ripe age of 20? Life quickly taught me that the ups and downs experienced in childhood, were nothing compared to those of adulthood. I found myself learning life lessons that I felt were designed to kill me. My physical and mental health began to decline. I was holding on emotionally, mentally, and physically by a thread. Depression and anxiety set in, and things got dark.
Then I found running. Although I never liked to run, a friend convinced me to train and run a relay with a group of friends. I caved to the peer pressure. The choice to start exercising saved me.
This story is not uncommon to the human family. Mental illness is common, with depression and anxiety, being the most prevalent, affecting over 40 million Americans. A 2018 study showed that over 74% of people felt so stressed that they became overwhelmed or felt unable to cope. In this year of 2020, I’m sure that number is higher. With the emergence of social media, and 24/7 news coverage, we now take in more negative news than prior generations did in a lifetime. It’s no wonder that stress and mental illness has been on the rise. But what do we do about it? One easy way, is to simply move your body.
We all know that exercise is good for our bodies, but did you know that exercise is excellent for our mental health as well? Multiple studies have shown that exercise releases endorphins that can boost mood, and improve one’s overall sense of wellbeing. Exercise reduces or relieves stress and anxiety, and even enhances concentration, motivation, and memory. Regular exercise is linked to better sleep, increased cognitive abilities, improved self-esteem, and more energy. Simply put, exercise helps us feel better.
- Start small. Start with 5 minutes three times a week. As you continue to move, you will feel better, and get stronger, allowing you to increase your time and/or frequency of exercise.
- Find something you love. Running isn’t for you? How about walking the dog, or dancing with your kids, or doing push-ups in the privacy of your own room? Any movement counts. Remember the goal is to get the body moving, and your heart pumping.
- Get comfortable. Wear clothes you feel comfortable moving in, and exercise in an environment in which you feel secure. Whether it’s outside, in your home, the gym, or your garage, just get moving.
- Find a super friend. A super friend will hold you accountable for exercising, ideally by exercising with you. Commitment increases when you have someone to exercise with and encourage you.
- Give yourself a reward. Create a positive reward loop by treating yourself to something you love every time you exercise. A hot bath, 15 min of reading, an episode of your favorite show, or snuggling with a loved one. Motivation will stay higher if you are looking forward to the reward!
- Be patient with yourself. One missed day, does not a failure make. Every day is a new opportunity to make the choice to take care of yourself. Even if you miss weeks in a row, starting again is a success!
I often joke with my husband, that I need to go to the gym to “throw weights, not people”. Exercise has pulled me from some deep, dark holes, and transformed my life. The ups and downs continue and always will. I know now that I cope better when I’m exercising. I don’t always feel like doing it, but I’m always glad that I did.