Exercise does help with emotional health. In particular, it helps alleviate anxiety and depression and reduce vulnerability to future episodes. Scientists are still exploring exactly how exercise does this. Maybe by its effects on neurotansmitters. Maybe by helping body systems communicate with each other and respond to stress more effectively.
We all know we shoud do it, but how does one really follow through on a regular basis? It needs to become a lifestyle change rather than another item on a to do list. Here are some suggestions for making lifestyle changes.
1. Make a plan that really will work for you. I know that I will never go to gym at 5:30 a.m., but one of my clients faithfully works out around 4 a.m. However, I will walk the dog or go to a tennis class in the evening. Make your plan, including long- and short-term goals, one that you honestly know you will do.
2. Take small steps. I did not go to the gym for weeks after I got rid of my uncomfortable athletic shoes, so one of my exercise goals was to buy a pair of shoes. Another small step may be to increase the number of literal steps you take in a day by parking farther away. Build up slowly rather than wearing yourself out and never wanting to do that again. Even a 10 minute walk has emotional benefits.
3. Make it social/Get support. At one time in my life, I went to the gym faithfuly at 9 a.m. every Wednesday and Friday. I really enjoyed the comraderie of the classes (although there was no way I would have made the 6:30 a.m. classes). Some people find their dogs to be support or incentive enough to take a walk.
Finally, a colleague told me to never waste a bad mood. A great time to take walk is when you are really angry or anxious. Both of these emotions can be very activating, and taking a walk can burn some of that energy in a healthy way.
For more information check out Making Lifestyle Changes That Last and Exercise Fuels the Brain’s Stress Buffers