Why Movement Matters
Have you ever heard something along the lines of “Go on a walk, you’ll feel better!”? While this may seem like an oversimplified solution to bouts of depression or anxiety, there is a very real correlation between physical movement and mental health. Not only does movement decrease your risk of developing health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, but it also provides a natural release of chemicals in your brain that boost your mood, energy, memory, and lower stress levels!
What can therapy teach us about exercise?
So much of what we talk about in therapy revolves around building self-efficacy and healthy habits. Engaging regularly in physical activity is an investment in your health in more ways than one! Whether it’s going on a hike with friends, trying out that yoga studio in your neighborhood, or playing an organized team sport, your mind and body will thank you for the improved sleep, mood, focus, and the additional bonus of an outlet to relieve stress. Individuals who engage in regular physical activity often report increased levels of self-esteem and fulfillment. Finding activities that you genuinely enjoy and will look forward to is essential.
How to start and keep an exercise routine, from the viewpoint of a therapist
It can be intimidating to start making exercise a part of your regular routine. It’s more than okay to start slow and build over time. Be curious! Just like with therapy, the more you invest in yourself and connect with activities you enjoy, the longer-lasting and more significant the impact will be.
In therapy sessions, it is common for a patient who is considering the benefits of exercise to have questions about where to start:
- What makes it hard to exercise even when I know it’s good for me?
- What can help me get started in exercising and keep going?
- What can keep me motivated when exercising?
- What are realistic goals for when exercising and taking care of myself?
We might begin by exploring their past experiences with movement: what has worked in the past and what has gotten in the way? What is the motivation behind this behavior change? Exploring values and what matters to each unique individual allows us to build a more sustainable practice of movement and improvement in overall wellbeing.
Movement is part of a larger picture of taking care of yourself
While movement alone is unlikely to get rid of all your life stressors, engaging regularly in whatever modality of exercise excites and motivates you can be a wonderful supplement to psychotherapy and mindfulness practices in order to treat and relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more. Consider adding exercise to your toolbox of coping strategies – add 30 minutes a day of movement to your daily routine, and see just how capable you are of thriving.
Remember, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any exercise program, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions or concerns.
Key Benefits of Movement:
Improved Mood: Engaging in regular physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, often referred to as “feel-good” chemicals. These endorphins help elevate mood and promote a sense of well-being, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Stress Reduction: Exercise is a natural stress reliever. It helps reduce the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and stimulates the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are associated with relaxation and improved mood.
Enhanced Cognitive Function: Physical activity promotes better cognitive function, including improved memory, attention, and concentration. This can be particularly useful for individuals experiencing ADHD symptoms. It also increases blood flow to the brain, promoting the growth of new brain cells and improving overall cognitive performance.
Increased Energy Levels: Regular exercise can boost energy levels and combat feelings of fatigue. It helps improve cardiovascular health, enhances oxygen and nutrient delivery to the body, and promotes better sleep, leading to increased energy.
Improved Sleep: Exercise can contribute to better sleep quality, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Physical activity helps regulate sleep patterns, reduces insomnia symptoms, and promotes a more restful sleep, leading to improved mental health.
Boosted Self-Esteem: Engaging in regular exercise can improve self-esteem and body image. As individuals set and achieve fitness goals, they gain a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, positively impacting their mental well-being.
Social Engagement: Many forms of exercise provide opportunities for social interaction and connection, which are essential for mental health. Joining group classes, team sports, or exercising with friends can foster a sense of community, combat feelings of loneliness, and enhance overall social well-being.
Stress Coping Mechanism: Exercise can serve as a healthy coping mechanism for stress. Instead of turning to unhealthy habits, such as substance abuse or overeating, engaging in physical activity offers a positive outlet for stress reduction and emotional regulation.
Author: Megan O'Gara, LLMSW
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