How To Improve Mental Health Using Exercise

Many of us have good days and bad days. But what happens when our worry, fear, and sadness take over? It can be hard to exercise and find the energy to take care of ourselves during those times. For some those times are situational and fleeting however for others the situation leads to prolonged feelings of sadness or worry. Exercise can improve our mental health. Exercise can improve mental health by helping our bodies release endorphins. In an article by Jennifer C. Panning titled “Mental Health Benefits of Exercise” she points out that endorphins are our bodies natural way to help us create feelings of happiness. In addition to releasing endorphins exercise helps us focus on caring for ourselves.

When we take time to care for ourselves we are better able to realize our own value. As we realize our own value our self-esteem and confidence go up. As these rise so do our feelings of well being.

According to Daniel M Landers, “We now have evidence to support the claim that exercise is related to positive mental health as indicated by relief in symptoms of depression and anxiety”. This is important because the CDC states 1 in 5 Americans suffer from these illnesses. Landers highlighted studies which show both conditions are helped by exercise (without medication) with similar effectiveness to just using medication.

For many the decision to take medication is a tough one. There are side effects such as weight gain, loss of libido, and feeling “flat” which are compounded by worries about how long one will have to take the prescribed pill, not to mention the financial cost. Personally, I am not against medication and I know it can be effective and helpful, but my opinion is that a combination of treatment is most effective.

By focusing on healthy lifestyle choices like adding exercise into your daily routine you make positive steps to feel better, learn new and healthy ways of coping, and take charge of your life conciously.

*It should be noted that exercise is not a cure all and professional help and advice should be sought before beginning any exercise program and for your mental health concerns.

References:
CDC. Treatment Works – Get Help for Anxiety and Depression.

Landers, D. M.(1997). The influence of exercise on mental health. The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Diegest. 2, 12. http://www.fitness.gov/mentalhealth.htm

Panning, J. C.(2000). Mental health benefits of exercise. Mental Health Journal. http://www.findcounseling.com/journal/health-fitness/

Rose, T. (2007). Depression and Weight Gain.

Taking a Deep Breath Can Help You Manage The Holidays

As we blow through this holiday season searching for the perfect give, what have you done for yourself?We spend time wandering, looking, finding the perfect gifts. We expend all our energies finding things we believe others will want, but what about ourselves? Have you taken time for you?

We know that exercise combats stress but it’s the first thing many people slash when their schedules get overloaded. When we take deep breaths, exercising or not, we elicit a relaxation response, this in turn helps our body release hormones that calm us. They help slow our systems down. The result? Clearer thought patterns, more productive, more enjoyable everyday experiences.

Take some time for you this holiday season and don’t ignore the importance of exercise.

Accountability and Weight Loss

Accountability. A big, very important word, accountability. In our society of give me’s, I deserve’s, and I want’s we have lost some accountability for our actions.

I meet many people who wonder why they cannot lose weight. “I try so hard”, they complain. Then we look at their actions.

They eat large portions, have long Friday night happy hours with friends, lots of pop and fast food choices, and no planning for meals or workouts. They spend their money on other items, rather than a gym membership or home workout gear. Sometimes I wonder where the rational is. For example: If I drink a 20 oz bottle of pop each day. At approximently $1.50/pop, I could afford a gym membership, more than 6 workout videos, a small set of dumbbells, 2 yoga kits, personal training, a pair of shoes, or some workout clothing. This is where many say, that’s why I buy the liter of pop for $1. Hmmm…is it any wonder more than 60% of our population is overweight? Until we begin to take responsibility for our actions weight will continue to climb.

Its too hard, you grumble. The media sends to many messages at me to drink pop, eat out, and buy things. Work takes all my time and I can not find time to work out. Well, you are responsible for you. It is no one’s fault if you fail to plan meals and end up eating un-healthy meals. Notice I did not say eating out. We have many choices when we eat out, but are you making smart choices? It is no one’s fault if you choose to work long hours and never take a break. A work out does not have to be long. Study after study show employee productivity goes up when employees are healthy, absenteeism goes down, and morale gets better. If your boss is not interested in any of those things, you may want to re-think your place of employment, it may not survive. It is no one’s fault if you choose to spend money on clothes, cigarettes, poor food choices, and other sedentary activities. Invest your money into things that will help you reach your goals.

Working out does not have to cost a dime. Have you ever been in a convienence store in the morning before work? Notice what others are buying. Many times you will see armloads of pop and other sugary drinks, chips, gallons of coffee (think caffeine); interesting isn’t it. I recently learned 60% of our county qualifies for some form of government assistance, yet when I look around a convince store, many can spend quite a bit on poor food choices, and then complain they have no money to spend on health.

Working out does not have to take much time. Ever sat through an episode of a TV show only to think it was dumb? Why did you waste your time? How about when you sit through one and because it ended you watch the one right after it? Half of many TV programs are commercials, so even if you like the show, you could do some activities during commercials, or better yet, you could do activity through the whole show! There is a half hour of activity and you did not spend any money or have to find any extra time.

Working out does not have to be a huge change. If you start it will snowball. What about working activity into your life? Quit driving around the parking lot looking for the closest spot – there is your extra half hour of time. Park as far away as you can and walk in. Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible. Walk instead of drive, sometimes it’ll take you less time to walk, than to get in your car, start it up, move it, sit at the stop lights, move through traffic, and find another spot to park. Get wild buy a bike. If you need a parking pass for your car – there is your extra money. (Worried about winter biking, there are many who bike all year long, and I am sure they could help you get started.)

It is no one’s responsibility to get you moving. It is no one’s responsibility to make sure you are choosing actions that correspond with your goals, and it is no one’s responsibility to make sure you follow through with your goals – its all you. Make the choice today to be accountable for your actions and in control of your choices and ultimately your health.

Planning and Goal Setting For Fitness Success

Goals take planning. Many people have begun the journey to better health and have taken the challenge to begin exercising.  It is important to put into perspective what you are trying to accomplish.

First, look at where you are. What is it about where you are that you want to change? Is this something you can do easily? Why or why not? What might hold you back? How will you deal with those obstacles? Are you ready to change? Remember the saying: The pain of staying the same must be greater than the pain of change. It will be uncomfortable, hard, and time consuming, but if it matters to you it will be worth it. Who are you changing for? Write down the answers to the above questions. This will help cement the process you are about to begin. If you feel you are up to a challenge ask a friend to ask them and provide your answers, truthful answers, back to your buddy. An outside observer may offer fresh perspective on where you are and where you want to go. Please, make sure the person you pick to hear your inner thoughts genuinely supports your efforts.

Next, decide on a time line. How long will it take you to complete? What amount of time are you willing to commit to this experience? What is the priority level of this goal? Again, write down the answers. As you review your list, are you being realistic about your goal? Do you feel you are ready to take this goal on? Do you have adequate support? Do you need help from someone else: ie, family member, friend, professional? Who are your support people?

Finally, you must decide how you are going to tackle your goals? Will you do them together? Do they fit? For example: I want to become more healthy and eat better. These two goals fit together and help me accomplish both. On the other hand, if I want to learn a new computer program and how to paint, I may be better off tackling one goal at a time due to the intensity of each. Ask again: “am I being realistic about my goals?” “my time commitments?” and “my desire to reach this goal and put effort behind accomplishing it.” Remember if it was easy you would have already done it.

Once your list is done it is time to prioritize your goals. It typically takes twenty-one days to create a new habit so it is a good idea to take on one goal per quarter, or for three months at a time. Not that you won’t continue once you have begun, but giving yourself three months to really focus will allow you to create healthy habits, break the old ones, and account for setbacks, which will happen. Once you have chosen four goals to accomplish this year (less if they are very intensive) it is time to plan.

You will want to examine time commitments throughout the year, such as vacations, conferences, graduations, births, things you know are coming up and have the potential to throw you off. Then examine your daily commitments and decide how you will fit your new lifestyle activities into your existing lifestyle. Finally, map out the next year based on your large goals, followed by the smaller goals you will use to measure your success by. In the end change is a difficult practice, but we call it practice for a reason: if you do not practice you will never get your new habits down!

Off Season Training With Mind Body Work

If you are shifting into a maintenance or off season phase of workouts. Its a great time to add in mind- body exercises. The body and brain may naturally be heading this direction as winter approaches so why fight it.

You can find very intense workouts or very light. Adding an element of mind-body will help you next season by preparing your mind activity now for more focus later. Also, as you continue to practice mind-body work the biofeedback loop becomes stronger. This is great for family picnics – where you may tend to usually overeat. Now the body sends the signal and you have been practicing listening. Not that you automatically won’t overeat this time, but the chance that it will be a conscious choice is greater and this is the key to long term weight loss.

Life is full of choices. Its how we make them that will determine our success or failure of weight loss. If you have the option to consciously choose your actions you have the power to decide if you’ll reach your goal! The idea of biofeedback is also great when training for events.

We have a tendency to do too much in our society. If you listen to the body it will tell you when to back off before injury lays you up for weeks. Many have trouble heeding the bodies advice, but the more you practice listening the more likely you’ll be to hear and honor what your body is telling you.

Which will keep you progressing in training, not laid up on the couch frustrated, mad, and guilty that you didn’t listen when “you knew better”.

5 Ways to Find More Me Time

As you begin to take more time for yourself it can be hard to chose what to do without feeling guilt or even shame and selfish. So here are some ideas to help you take time for you and drop the negative feelings that may have long standing places in your psyche. Remember when you feel good you will pass those feelings onto to those you love.

1) Wake up slowly – read, drink a cup of coffee or tea, enjoy the quiet of your home before any chaos of getting ready for a school or work day. It doesn’t have to be a long period just quiet.
2) Do Yoga – or simple stretches and tune into your body and how it feels in the moment
3) Exercise – even if its just taking the dog for a walk
4) Hike – or get out in nature and follow her rhythms. I like to kayak or float this time of year and let the water be the guide to my speed. I make a conscious choice to go only as fast as the river flows.
5) Take a bath or spend some time at your private “home spa” – pick some treatments you would like at the day spa and do them at home in the privacy (and quiet) of your own home.

Taking Time For You is Not a Luxury

When you feel good you are better able to care for others, however I meet many people who feel like taking time for themselves is cheating. Honestly, that’s not the case.

You can’t help others if you are wiped out. Be it from work, school, home life, or an illness if you are overwhelmed your ability to help those you care most about can be compromised. Instead schedule time for you everyday. During this time do something that re-energize you. Maybe its a walk, reading, cooking (for fun not because you have to), a bath, time with friends, or other activity that allows you to “get lost” for a short period of time and regroup.

It doesn’t have to be a long personal session but it should be something you enjoy doing and it shouldn’t be something you feel like you have to do – no matter how much it might be good for you.

Letting Go of Perfect

Many of us begin our fitness path with an ideal. We have a vision of what we want to look like, achieve, and accomplish. Sometimes these goals which were so inspiring to begin with begin to weigh us down. Soon they become the albatross that doesn’t let us go and we no longer enjoy.

I was hiking last weekend with my family in the mountains of Colorado. We were taking a somewhat difficult climb for our three small children but figured they could make it to the high lake with plenty of breaks. At first all went as planned, but soon the “how much longer” and “I’m too tired to move” became a constant creating stress for all within hearing distance. Was it my 4-year-olds fault he was bored of this multi-hour walk (we have completed others just fie) or my 6-year-olds fault she preferred the flowers in front of her to the lake we couldn’t see yet? No!

Looking back the only problem was that we didn’t honor the beauty right in front of us because we were too focused on the goal. Along the trail there was much to be discovered and had we been less focused on the end result and more focused on the process we could’ve have seen it.

The lesson in it all was this: having a destination (goal) is good however you should also find the beauty along the road (the process of reaching your goal). As it was we never made it to the lake but were able to learn this lesson halfway in. On the return trip we spend much more time checking out flowers, waterfalls, rocks, mud-puddles, and views!

Your Life – In Balance. How to Find Life Balance

If you checked out Monday’s blog I hope you did some thinking over the last few days about where you might want to create better balance in your life. And if you feel pretty balanced right now you may want to think about strategies to keep it that way. Life has a tendency to cycle and the more tools you have in your toolshed to better able you’ll be to handle any curve balls thrown at you.

Here is an exercise I like to do in workshops to help create a visual of where life may be out of whack. I usually do it as part of a long workshop (more than 2 hours) so take some time with it and see what comes up for you.

Materials Needed:
Large piece of paper – make it work for you
Crayons, markers, or colored pencils – at least 3-5+ different colors
Some quiet time to think

Fold your paper into four quadrants – you can also use the back if your paper is small.
Across the top list your major areas in your life – give each its own color, for example:

  1. Work
  2. Home
  3. Me Time
  4. Social
  5. Spiritual
    1. etc – put as many labels in as needed to get a complete picture of your life obligations.

In the top left square – using a different color for each activity (work, home, me time, social, spiritual, etc) place your average daily schedule – from the time you wake up till the time you go to bed. Mine might look like this:
6am – wake up (me time – red)
6:30 – yoga (spiritual – green)
7 – breakfast (home – purple)
7:30 – shower (me-red)
8:00 – leave house (work – orange)
and on throughout my day – each activity has a connection to a larger area of my life and is colored coded accordingly.

In the bottom left quadrant draw a circle – using the visual of a clock (but don’t use the actual time numbers as your segments) begin to fill in the number of hours you spend in each major area of your life.
This may sound a bit confusing – but the idea is to take an honest look at how much one area dominates your life.
I like to start with one area
Count the hours I spend “doing” in that area
And color all my hours in one block – so I end up with a neatly shaded pie
Each color representing a different life area, and each area/color a different slice. It soon becomes clear which slices/areas dominate my life and which are lacking. In the above example I would have:
1 hour – me time
1/2 hour – household
1/2 hour – Exercise
1/2 hour – work

Once you have completed this exercise it is easy to repeat every so often to determine an objective look at how you use your time and what areas of life are controlling the majority of you. This objective look creates space for you to determine if the activities you spend the majority of your time on are the ones you want to be spending the majority of your time on and better able to make changes accordingly.

Creating Freedom

Ahhh, 4th of July is upon us. The time to celebrate our collective freedom, and I find it fitting to celebrate personal aspects of freedom as well. We are a lucky nation. Although, some would argue freedom is relative, I think today is a fitting day to celebrate your freedom. So as you sit by the water, cabin, backyard kiddie pool raising nothing more than your glass celebrate your freedom.

As our favorite weekend for lounging progresses use this time to let go and create your own personal freedom. First, think about the goals you have been reaching for. Are there any that have become stagnant and out dated? Get rid of them – free up your focus. Are your goals really reflecting where you want to go and who you want to be? If not, lose them with the next drop of condensation as it drips off your glass. Free up your conscience. Do you feel guilty about your progress, direction, sacrifices, or another idea surrounding your personal change? In my opinion guilt is useless, so chuck it, and begin to free up your shoulders, the place many of us hold tension and guilt.

As your shoulders loosen roll them back a few times and then forward a few, follow that with some shrugs, and finally roll them up, back, and down into their natural alignment. As you do this you’ll open up your chest and free your breath. Take a deep breath. Feel your chest expand and your body respond as the oxygen penetrates your cells and you activate your relaxation response. Free up your mind and let go of all those thoughts that keep repeating in your head. Let go of worry and anxiety; just be. Today is all about just being. Relax and let go of all shoulds and coulds and free up your schedule. Feel your skin relax and rest as you free your body and allow space for all parts of you to relax in kind. Don’t worry about places you would like to change or see differently in the mirror, toss the ideal and free your expectations. Accept who you are today for all your greatness.

Freedom, it rolls off your tongue nice and even. Bask in the ease of the word and let it become your motto for the day. Do not get caught in the mind game of how difficult it is to let go of those thought patterns and pre-conceived notions, those pesky ideals of who and how you should be. Today allow yourself the pleasure of being just as you are, today, in this moment, without shoulds, coulds; have-tos. Keep the thoughts flowing through your head and make it clear they are not welcome to linger and sour your day of wonderful, sweet freedom bliss.