The Magic of Movement

Can Exercise Really Help With Anxiety, Moodiness and Depression?

There is a quote that really resonates with me:

“When the world says, ‘Give up,” Hope whispers, ‘Try it one more time.’”

I have been a fitness, nutrition and wellness coach for the last 15 years.  However, I’m not the “run-of-the-mill” stereotype of the quintessential, talented counterparts who share my chosen profession.  You see, I’ve never been a fan of exercise, I love to eat and I’m predisposed to bouts of crankiness and mild depression.

Although I’m less than enthused about the act of methodological exercise, I do like the by-products of doing so. I’d read over and over about studies showing how exercise can help to lift spirits. When you think about it, exercise is a safe and effective remedy. That appealed to me, since my body typically reacts negatively to meds. The thing is, it’s difficult to get up and get moving when we’re simply not in the mood or simply don’t want to loosen our grip on the TV remote long enough to get off the sofa.

Still, the effort is worth it. A major study by Duke University found that exercise worked as well as antidepressant medication for some patients. [1]

So Where to Start?

If you’re experiencing mild depression, stress or just feeling moody, you may need strategies to help you start an exercise program and stick with it. Try these tips for working out when you’re feeling low.

1.      See your doctor. If you’re being treated for depression, let your doctor know about your plans. They can coordinate your treatment, answer your individual questions and help you to evaluate your progress.

2.      Start small. Your first step can be as modest as a walk around the block or 10 minutes of stretching in the morning. As your energy levels increase, it will be easier to tackle larger endeavors.

3.      Focus on aerobics. While lifting weights is critical to good health, research shows that aerobic activities are especially powerful in fighting anxiety and depression. Do something that speeds up your heart rate, like riding a bike or jumping rope or even dancing. Listen to music you enjoy.

4.      Set realistic goals. Aim for targets you can reach. If you’re a bit deconditioned, sign up for beginner fitness classes. Exercise for a few minutes at a time if you need to work your way up.

5.      Make it convenient. Keep some gear at home that you can use anytime, such as resistance bands or a rowing machine. Do leg lifts and pushups while you’re brewing coffee or watching TV.

6.      Be consistent. Regular exercise delivers greater results and reduces your risk of injuries. Try shortening your sessions instead of skipping a day if you’re feeling uninspired.

7.      Move. Physical activity apart from formal exercise counts too. Block out time for gardening and housework.

Sticking With It

Once you start feeling better, it may be easy for you to rationalize slowing down – especially if lying on the sofa watching television is our favorite place to be.  Try these suggestions for sticking with the program (and I don’t mean the TV program).

1.      Enjoy yourself. Find a variety of activities that you love, so you’ll look forward to your sessions. You might take dance classes one day and go hiking the next. Listen to your favorite songs and go outdoors when you can.

2.      Create new challenges. Update your goals when you’re ready to aim higher. Slowly increase the duration and intensity of your workouts or learn a new skill.

3.      Think positively. You may criticize yourself harshly when you’re down, tired or cranky. Become aware of your thoughts and experiment with more constructive messages. List your personal strengths and the things you like about your body.

4.      Invest in yourself. Take care of your mental and physical wellbeing. Keeping fit also depends on eating a balanced diet and getting adequate amounts of restful sleep.

5.      Offer rewards. Recognize your efforts by treating yourself to something that gives you pleasure. You might buy a book or take a bubble bath.

6.      Seek support. Reach out to family and friends you trust and tell them what they can do to help you reach your fitness goals. They may offer words of encouragement or they may want to join you at the gym.

7.      Remember your purpose. Think about the reasons why you want a more active life. Your main concern may be relieving symptoms of depression or you may have other priorities, like wanting to stay independent as you age or provide a healthy role model for your children.

So, the next time you feel like life sucks, instead of heading for a bowl of ice cream or diving into a bag of chips, quit slogging around.  Get up and start moving, and make it a regular thing. Even small increases in physical activity can have a big impact on mood and self-esteem.


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