Our latest article titled ‘Strong Body, Strong Mind’ was featured in Life Inspired Magazines spring edition and you can read it below or by clicking on the picture above
Strong Body, Strong Mind
Simple Tips for Improving Your Mental Health
Depression and anxiety are two of the most common issues faced by Canadians today. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Anxiety disorders and depression top this list, with 10% of the population aged 18 or older experiencing a depressive disorder. Depression and anxiety affects people regardless of age, educational levels, income, or culture and impacts all areas of life.
At some point in our lives, we’ve all heard the “Strong Body, Strong Mind” concept talked about. As common as the phrase is, the evidence of its truth remains strong. Numerous studies show a direct link between physical health and mental health. Results from a study by Blumenthal et al. (2007) reveals that exercise is comparable to antidepressant medication in the treatment of patients with a Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The study also showed that exercise has psychological effects, which can improve depressed moods. Self-efficacy, a sense of mastery, positive thoughts, distraction from negative thoughts, and enhanced self-concept have all been noted as reasons for exercise’s positive impact on mental health. Furthermore, these findings demonstrate that exercise may be beneficial in treating mild to moderate depression.
Exercise is about so much more than improving physical appearance. Exercise helps relieve stress in a number of different ways. Let’s break down some of the benefits of exercise:
- It encourages personal achievements, such as pushing through mental obstacles and gaining the capacity to tolerate difficult emotions.
- Exercise releases stress hormones (cortisol) from our body.
- Physical activity promotes deeper rest in the evenings.
- Helps develop a positive outlook on life.
- When we exercise, our brain releases endorphins that mimic the effects of taking an anti-depressant medication dose, leading to several changes in the brain, including increased neuron formation, reduced inflammation, and creating new associations between mood and behaviours.
- Physical exercise immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, which helps to increase focus and attention.
- Habits formed by regular exercise, such as maintaining a commitment to an exercise program, can deliver a sense of purpose, enjoyment, and mastery.
- Performing exercise as part of a group can give a sense of belonging, connection, and social support.
Outdoor recreation can help promote mindful awareness of surroundings.
- Exercise mimicking bi-lateral stimulation such as walking, running, and swimming can assist in the nervous system becoming “unstuck” in cases of PTSD and trauma. It can also help prevent larger setbacks when difficult, stressful, or traumatic life experiences take place.
Not a bad list for a little bit of exercise, right? Most of us would sign up for these benefits any day! And yet, this is the hardest part of exercise for many people: how do I get started and more importantly, how do I stick to it? Well, the great thing about starting out is that trial and error is a good thing! You need to learn what does and doesn’t work for you. For some, getting involved in a class gives the accountability you need. For others, the individual pace of working out alone is enough motivation.
No matter who you are and where you’re at in life, these are some steps that will help you get started and stick to your exercise goals!
Like most things in life, scheduling a time to exercise is best. Unfortunately, your calendar is not going to magically rearrange itself to accommodate your want to exercise! Take the time to plan it around other necessary activities and responsibilities in your life. One useful tip is to treat your scheduled exercise like a doctors appointment which is not something we are likely to cancel or avoid.
Scheduling your workouts around the same time of day helps make exercise a habit. Creating any routine/habit in life takes time and work, but it will be worth it in the end!
Try to choose a time of day when you are awake and have the most energy. Whether you’re an early morning kind of person or a night owl, find a time that parallels your natural energy schedule.
Most of us work better when someone is holding us accountable to our goals! Signing up for a class is a great way to find that, or getting a friend to work out with also provides a means of accountability. Scheduling your workouts with a personal trainer is also a great way to stay on track and you can look at it like an investment into your health.
Set yourself attainable goals. Don’t begin with the goal of losing high amounts of weight within the first month. Don’t expect to be powering through intense workouts only a few days after starting. Work your way up and with attainable goals you’ll be more encouraged along the way.
Pair your exercise with healthy eating. The two will eventually become more enmeshed and habitual but in the beginning it takes practice to pair healthy and balanced eating into a new routine.
Choose a setting that works for you. If you’re an outdoors person, make it a goal to exercise outside as much as possible. If you’re not an outdoors person, find a gym with the right atmosphere that works for you! If you like to always try new things, find a gym with unique workout equipment and routines!
When we pair exercise with mindfulness the impacts to our health can be even more powerful. Mindfulness has been referred to as your “mental gym” (Williams, Poijula, 2013). It is the practice of staying in the moment and focusing on the “here and now”. By staying in the present moment we can begin to silence our negative thought patterns, which will help to change our negative feelings about ourselves. When we begin to change our thoughts and feelings, our focus will shift to creating new healthy behaviors, which will keep us on track for building a strong body and mind! Keep this in mind as you move forward with your exercise goals this year. Take the time to focus on your surroundings as you walk or run, take it one day at a time, and focus on the joy of lightening stress, a little bit at a time!
By Matt Barnes, Taryn Barnes, and Dawn Whalls