Let me ask you this: have you ever had so much stress or emotion going on that the only way you could relieve it was to clean out a garage, reorganize a closet or weed the garden until you dropped? How often do people going through break-ups suddenly become exercise fanatics and get into shape just because they want to get their minds off the sadness (or anger) or simply don’t know what to do with what they're feeling?
These tendencies to use up energy during stressful times are not only natural; they also do us good and make us feel alive again. That’s why so many of us choose exercise as a way to let off steam, quell emotions or just make our problems seem smaller. Did you know that any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever? You don’t have to be an athlete to find out that a little exercise can go a long way toward stress management.
Running, walking, biking, hiking, playing a round of tennis or doing yoga – all of it increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, in turn giving you a shot of energy. But exercise also relieves stress in ways you may never have thought about. It bumps up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters (endorphins), giving you a high that can last more than just the hour or so you perform the exercise. It will make your blood flow faster, raise your sense of awareness, and put your entire body on alert, making it more prepared for what’s to come. An article in the Mayo Clinic’s web site called it “meditation in motion.” Zoning out on laps in the pool can make you forget the day's irritations and instead focus your concentration on movement.
You can start small, which is probably the best way to begin. You can find that a single task – like walking to the coffee shop instead of driving there -- results in a burst of energy and optimism, improving your mood and even increasing your self-confidence even if it’s your own little secret for a while. Even mild forms of exercise can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety, improve your sleep, and offer you a sense of command over your body and your life.
You’ll want to build up your fitness level gradually. Overdoing it can lead to pain, which often leads to making excuses to stop, More importantly, it can lead to injury. Of course, engaging the services of a personal trainer to start you on a regimen and keep you accountable is the ideal, but if that’s not possible, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking or swimming) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity (such as running). I like to recommend a combination of moderate activity combined with sprints of exercise that raise your heartbeat for small periods of time, since the effects of that kind of exercise has the potential to keep your metabolism (and your endorphins) going for up to 48 hours.
Don’t forget the strength training, though, even if you don’t own a set of weights or any exercise equipment. There are so many ways to increase your strength simply using the weight of your own body! Just ask me and I’ll show you some basics! Striving for balance, flexibility and increased stamina go a long way in making you feel great about yourself, especially as you age. It lessens stress levels and help deal with the emotions that keep surfacing, helping you over troubled waters. The main thing is to SCHEDULE your exercise just like you would any other appointment. That may mean a morning workout one day and an evening activity the next. Carving out some time to move every day helps you make your exercise program an ongoing priority.
The key is consistency. The journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but that one step is not enough! Write down your specific, measurable and attainable goals and use your smart phone or online calendar to keep you honest. An appointment with yourself should be just as important as anything else you do for others. A good way to stay consistent is to find a friend willing to wait and see if you show up at the gym or the park, bringing an entirely new level of motivation and commitment to your workouts. It’s important, however, not to think of exercise as a bullet point on your to-do list. It should become a part of your day, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower.
Let me offer you tips on how to change up your routine, challenge yourself, and exercise in sensible, short bouts of activity so that you optimize your exercise sessions and have an arsenal of things to do when the going gets tough. When the bad times are over, you just may have gotten hooked and formed a habit that will keep giving back for a lifetime! Once you see how exercise can transform your moods, energy and stress levels, I guarantee you’ll become a believer!