You don’t need to hit the gym for an hour, or run 10 k to reap the mood-enhancing effects of exercise. It only takes five minutes to the lift a negative mood state (American Psychological Association. Online: The exercise effect. 2011 http://apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx). A few minutes per day of light or moderate exercise can have lasting positive effect on one’s mental health, especially if it’s outdoors.
How does exercise do this? Without all the biochemical details – it’s the mind-body connection and brain chemicals at work, triggered by movement. Exercise increases neurotransmitters associated with mood, the feel-good neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin – the same ones affected by anti-depressant/anxiety medication). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495?pg=1
You can do almost anything for five minutes, right? So how about a walk? Not only does it take just five minutes, but breaking down your goals into small micro steps also increases your mood due to the small and consistent sense of accomplishment or success accompanying completion of the goal, or part thereof (see info re. dopamine’s connection to goals and motivation here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thai-nguyen/hacking-into-your-happy-c_b_6007660.html
For example, set a small goal of walking, or gardening, or even washing your car by hand for a few minutes, then re-evaluate to see if you want to continue. You could try marching on the spot, taking the stairs, or put on your favourite tunes and spend a few minutes dancing…..just do something physically active and commit to it for five minutes. A few minutes a day can be beneficial. You don’t have to buy a gym membership, or attend intense weekly boot camp classes (but if that’s your thing, by all means go for it!). Start small and find some kind of movement you enjoy. I can tell you from my own personal experience, as well as from my professional perspective – exercise absolutely helps improve mood.
A 2004 article in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing concludes: “Exercise improves mental health and well-being, reduces depression and anxiety and enhances cognitive functioning. Although exercise seems to improve the quality of life of those living with mental health problems, its value is seldom recognized by mainstream mental health services. The evidence suggests that exercise may be a neglected intervention in mental health care ” (Callaghan, P., p. 482).
According to researchers who analyzed results of multiple studies “Exercise is a magic drug for many people with depression and anxiety disorders, and it should be more widely prescribed by mental health care providers…” (Southern Methodist Universty, Texas. Online in Science Daily – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100405122311.htm). My own family doctor once told me that exercise is the cure for everything. He might be onto something!
I saw a tweet a few months back that said “The best time to go for a walk is when you don’t feel like it.” If we always waited until we felt like it, lots of things probably wouldn’t get done and nothing would change. A common expression I frequently say to myself and my clients is that if you keep doing the same things, you will get the same results, so if you want things to change (your mood, weight, relationship, job, energy, etc.), you have to do something differently. Period. And, you probably won’t feel like it. So what. Do it anyway. Who doesn’t feel better after a walk? And for further inspiration please watch this Ted Talk. It’s worth the 21 minutes! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp7E973zozc
For more information on exercise and mental health, please see the following links:
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