Exercise. It’s the first step in our time together and it is an important one. I also acknowledge that it’s probably the last thing on your “sounds good” list if you’ve been struggling lately. I know, there are some days when your body feels like lead and simply presenting yourself to the world with a half brushed mouth, two day old hair, and sniff-tested clothes is almost more than you can take. I know the fury of frustration and fatigue that can come with a bouncy encouragement to get exercise from someone who clearly doesn’t get it. I also know that even if you don’t want to, even if you have to curse me, the world, or your depression. Even if you have to tie your shoes while you throw a two year old tantrum on the floor, or slither off the couch like a deflated slug- you have to get exercise. Remember? The only way out is through.
So let’s talk about why.
Certainly a piece of the puzzle to our moods are our neurotransmitters, or our “feel good” chemicals. When we’re low with dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, or oxytocin, our mood is lower. That’s the basics of it, right? And we all know that exercise is a way of releasing these natural chemicals, as well as increasing blood flow to the part of the brain responsible for our emotions.
Did you know, though, that positive mood changes occur more readily when you’re engaging in aerobic exercise? Anaerobic, or more intense activities, don’t show the same level of benefit. So what types of exercises are helpful?
- Yoga. I first recommend yoga because not only does it increase strength, endurance, burn calories, and is often done in a group setting, but yoga also adds a mindfulness component (which we’ll cover in more detail next week). When doing yoga, you get more connected to your body, feeling the consequences of each action. Yoga also helps release tense areas that hold stored emotion, like your shoulders and hips. If you’re new to yoga, there are classes for you. If you need to de-stress, try a yin or restorative yoga class. You’ll thank me later.
- Walking (or jogging). No need to sprint or try and be in a 5k next week if you’re not usually a runner. If you want to work up to that, try something like the Couch to 5k program. Otherwise, walking is perfect. Not only does walking get your heart pumping and your muscles moving, it also gets you outdoors with fresh air. Walking is helpful for the brain in a similar way to EMDR in that it uses bilateral brain stimulation. The movement helps with funneling your attention and reorganizing your brain.
- Swimming. Ideal for people who struggle with aches and pains (or are pregnant, this is great for pre/postnatal ladies!), swimming is easy on the joints. Swimming also incorporates water (duh!), which has a natural connection to our emotions and is often found to be relaxing.
- Dancing. Nobody has to see it, or you can be up there performing. Dancing is great not only for many of the reasons mentioned above, but it includes music. Be aware of what music you expose yourself to. Pump some happy, life-loving tunes with a beat that gets you moving and dance to your heart’s content. You don’t have to be a great dancer. Dancing is in our genes as humans, just ask any baby.
There are other reasons exercise is important as well, such as improved body image, endurance, and improved energy (the more you move, the more you want to move… to a point). Getting good exercise during the day helps you sleep more soundly at night, which we’ll talk about in weeks to come. If you’re feeling more energized, spending more time in the sunlight/fresh air, and sleeping better at night… doesn’t that already sound like not-depression? The more fatigued you are, the more depressed you feel simply because fatigue feels like depression, even when it isn’t. It’s like the opposite idea of smiling to trick your brain into feeling happier. Couch-slug feeling tricks your brain into feeling depressed.
Now is a good time to talk about the intention to our exercises. We often see exercise as a means to an end (i.e. look better/thinner/more ripped/etc). In my program, though, exercise is not about looking a certain way or fitting a certain size. Nor is it about what other people think. Stop that, right now. If you’re holding onto “skinny clothes” for once you look a certain way, get rid of them. We want to learn how to love exactly what we have as it is. Once we love what we have, we have more flexibility to improve it. What does that mean? It’s about feeling strong, energized, and connected to your body. If you’re connected with your body you treat it better, and in turn it treats you better. Trying to punish yourself for looking or weighing a certain way is a breeding ground for depression. It’s like wanting to get rid of the stray animals on your front porch, but secretly leaving them scraps from dinner each night.
The same is true with too much exercise. If you are pushing yourself into oblivion with exercise, you’re exhausting your body and causing the problems noted above. We’re not talking about becoming triathlon athletes here or trying to squeeze some control out of our bodies in an uncontrollable world. We’re talking about improving your mental landscape by creating a healthy connection with your body. Remember, it’s the only body you get. And your body, just like every other body, is absolutely beautiful, just as it is.
Are you wondering how in the world you’re going to find time to exercise in your busy life? What about the kids, my social media presence, work, school, etc? It doesn’t have to be crazy (in fact, it shouldn’t be!). Think small to start. Take a walk around the building on your lunch break. Park in a space in the back of the parking lot to go grocery shopping. Go play outside with your kids or animals. Work your way up so that you’re exercising for 15 minutes 5 times a week. Or 30-45 minutes 3 or 4 times per week. Stretch for 10 minutes before you get into bed at night. Make it a goal to join one fitness class per week (plus, then, several walks around the neighborhood throughout the week). You DO have time to get more exercise. In fact, I’m going to go do 15 minutes of Yoga before my daughter wakes from her nap.
See you next week! Feel free to comment your plans for exercise below. It can be helpful to write them down, here or elsewhere!