Exercise as therapy for your mind
We know that exercise make us healthier. It has the benefit of lowering blood pressure and reducing your risk of diabetes. But it’s so easy to NOT do it, right? Especially as it’s getting so cold and the sofa is so comfy. But there is a much more important reason for exercising than fitting into those skinny jeans. Exercise is literally medicine for your mental health. So why not think of exercise as therapy for your mind.
Exercise boosts your mood, releases those feel-good endorphins and improves your cognitive performance (see this article by JC Miller and Z Krizan for the science). It also helps you to replace lost energy, or let go of excess tension from your body.
I like to think of exercise as ‘movement therapy for your mental wellbeing’.
How do you know what kind of exercise your body needs? First you need to tap into what feels good for YOUR body and your MIND. Try out different things. You’re unique so find out what YOU like doing exercise-wise and what your soul needs. There’s no point forcing yourself to go to the gym if it bores the living shizz out of you.
Here are some suggestions for exercise as therapy for your mind:
If you’re feeling depressed it’s likely you’re in a low energy state. What would be good here is to build up more energy in your body by moving it and by taking big breaths. Trouble is, when you’re feeling depressed and your motivation is rock bottom, it’s hard to actually get off the sofa. Why not call a friend and get them to take you there?
The people at Psychology Today wrote a good article about how to exercise when you’re really low. They advocate just trying little 5 minute bites and building up from there. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/back-the-brink/201311/how-exercise-when-depressed
Here are some ideas for depression-busting exercise:
The most accessible exercise for those us with functioning lower limbs. Even if it’s just 5 minutes. You’ll get your circulation going, you’ll breathe in some fresh air and maybe even get some Vitamin D. And many more benefits besides these.
I advocate going with a friend, because not only will it give you some social interaction, they’ll also help you keep going when you really just want to hide away in your nest.
Get yourself to a gentle yoga class – Yin Yoga would be perfect. Don’t let your ego take over – listen to your body – stay away from the more strenuous classes like Vinyasa until you’ve got more energy in your system.
The breathing techniques (pranayama) from Yoga are also fantastic for getting more energy into your lungs. You’re literally pumping yourself up with energy from the inside.
Bust out your inner Carmen Miranda/Antonio Banderas
My top pick for depression is Latin dancing. You’re out there mingling with other people instead of sinking into your aloneness and you‘re getting exercise without having to resort to lycra. You don’t have to go there with a partner or friends. The majority of people go on their own and you may even make new friends.
You also don’t have to be already a dancer. Everyone starts as a beginner. Some with two left feet. And there’s no prerequisite to be skinny. Some of my favorite dance partners are more on the cuddly side.
Dancing is so good for you the Victorian Government has written about the benefits:
Have a dance break instead of a chocolate break
Those clever peeps at No Lights No Lycra have created a free app called Dance Break. Once a day it will randomly take over your phone and sends you a song to dance to in the middle of the office/school/street. Go to http://dancebreak.com.au/ Or download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play Store.
When you’re anxious you’re in a state of fear. That constant rumination (going over thoughts in your head again and again) causes the release of noradrenaline and cortisol into your system. Being in a constantly hyped up state is bad news for your poor over-worked adrenal glands and the cocktail of emergency hormones isn’t too crash hot for the rest of your body either (they’re meant for emergency use, not every day). Additionally, constantly being in a fight or flight state chews up a lot of energy.
You need to ground yourself in the present. Anything that slows you down and reconnects you with your body and the present time is worth a go.
Try Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi or Chi Gung. Restorative yoga is perfect for the over-stressed nervous system. Again the breathing techniques will bring more energy to your body and replace that depleted energy store.
I advocate doing something to release the pent up tension in your body – especially an activity where you get to use your breath and voice to help release that tension. Try boxing or martial arts. Make a racket and unleash the tiger!
But then on the flipside, you also need to calm your nervous system. So once again, walking, yoga, pilates. Anything that calms you. Massage is fantastic. Laze in a float tank even! Or lie on your back and gaze up at the stars. Whatever it takes to calm you down.
So whatever you do, do something that appeals to you. Keep trying new things until you find what works for you and make it your personal exercise as therapy for your mind.
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