Exercise for mental health, not weight loss

In Random Thoughts, Schmexercise, Uncategorized on March 17, 2013 at 5:30 pm

A friend visited a few months ago and she explained to me that she needs to exercise everyday for her mental health, not her physical health. Over the winter holidays she was traveling and visiting family and her exercise regime really suffered. She was surprised by how much inactivity bolstered depression and anxiety. This is anecdotal of course but there are tons of studies linking exercise with improved mental health (check out the mayo clinic, science daily, etc.). My friend frames her exercise routine as a must, as her daily medicine.

This outlook is pretty radical to me. I usually start exercising solely to lose weight. I do crazy things like run marathons and go on long back packing trips to be “able” to eat lots of food! If I exercise there must be a goal involved and be an all-encompassing time-intensive pursuit.

After my friend headed home I thought well, why not try to approach exercise for mental and physical health? I wanted to try a routine that was practical and something I could do with the baby. I tried dance classes at the gym but I didn’t like the baby care and with the driving and packing for the outing, it proved to be too much to do every day or even every few days. I loved the classes though and think when the baby gets older I will try to incorporate a couple a week into my routine.

On Facebook a friend posted rave reviews of the Couch to 5K app. It guides you through a run/walk, three day a week, regime culminating in you being able to run a 5K in about 8 weeks of training. I haven’t really run since running the NYC marathon…. in 2001!!!! I am also carrying around at least forty extra pounds. And I can do this! I highly recommend the app, and it is free.

Like the best of technology, it really makes exercising into a no-brainier. I put the baby in her stroller (and it isn’t a fancy jogger stroller FYI so don’t let not being able to afford one of those stop you) and head somewhere flat. Then I walk when the voice says walk and run when the voice says run. It is challenging for me because I haven’t been a runner in so long but it is doable and it always is over just when I think oh man I can’t do this any longer!

One of the best parts of using a program like this is I am not over-doing the exercise and burning out. Three times a week I can handle. I am on week five right now.

I also hike with a moms group once a week so I am exercising four out if seven days. This is pretty radical for someone who hasn’t exercised in years….

So have I experienced a boost in mental health? The truth is, I think so but can’t quite tell. What I have felt is increased energy. Why is it that something that takes up energy gives you more of it? I would love to know. I have also felt an increase in my libido which is definitely good for my mental health, not to mention my marriage!

There are definitely days when I don’t feel like doing the running, for sure. But something about saying to myself, this is non-negotiable, this is your mental medicine, really cuts through my excuse-making mental b.s.


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