3 Ways to Give Your Body-Mind The Exercise it Needs

Hello, I am Dr Stacy Reuille-Dupont. I was an exercise scientist who turned into a clinical psychologist when I realized being healthy was about more than working out. Now I study how your body is changed by thought and emotion and how thought and emotion impact our physical systems. Here are some of the ways mental and physical health impact each other and 3 ways you can use exercise to optimize your health.

Photo Credit: Photo by Fitsum Admasu on Unsplash

For example your heart has its own electricalsystem that keeps it beating in rhythm, we strengthen it through cardiovascular exercise. This is things like running, biking, swimming, walking, anything you do with your big muscle groups for a period of time that makes your heart beat faster and breath rate go up. 

Equipment like treadmills, recumbent bikes, and elliptical machines are used to help people raise their heart rates indoors and get an effective cardiovascular workout done on limited time.

When we workout doing cardiovascular exercise we help our mood too. Our serotonin 2 endorphins, domaine, oxytocin, acetylcholine, all increase. These are the feel good hormones in our bodies. Doing just 2 – 30 minutes aerobic exercise sessions per week for at least 7 weeks is as good as taking a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor (SSRI) anti-depressant medication for depression3

These feel good hormones do more than just make us feel good, they also regulate other processes in our bodies and decrease inflammation throughout our physical system. This is important because inflammation 4 wreaks havoc on our tissues. It creates brain fog, digestive issues, joint pains, weight gain and makes us feel more stressed out. 

When we feel stressed out everything is harder. It’s harder to learn, our relationships are more difficult, often because we are more irritated, it is harder to relax, and harder to get excited about doing fun things, which is exactly what we need to do if we are going to feel better. So it’s a double whammy of struggle. 

When we feel stress we are feeling the increases of chemicals in our endocrine system. Specifically through what’s called the HPA-axis, this is our hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. They work together to shift us into high gear and stay alive through a threat. However if we don’t move those chemicals out of our system they keep us inflamed and don’t help our tissues relax. And our body mind can’t tell if the threat is really happening to us or just something we saw on TV or in our video game5. We feel it in our physical system and then we respond as though it is happening to us even if we are just watching it or playing a game. 

Exercise is also considered a stressor and it works with the HPA-axis 6 too, but it gives us a mechanism to metabolize and use up those chemicals as our muscles, heart, lungs, and bones are working to move faster, lift heavy things, and challenge our fitness levels. So when we move our bodies and challenge ourselves we are building a stronger physical and mental system that works together 7.

Another big way exercise helps us is through our breathing. When we workout we breathe harder. Our lungs are one of four organs that help us get toxins out of our bodies. Exhaling even helps us lose weight8

Breathing is directly tied to our nervous system. When we breathe in we impact our sympathetic system, this is our high energy creative doing and fight/flight side of our nervous system. As we breathe out we impact our parasympathetic nervous system side9. This is our rest, digest, stay, and play, creative inspiration, feel good side. We want to be here more. This is where we feel safe and connected to people around us and something larger than ourselves. This tells our brains we are ok and the world is ok. We don’t have to be afraid. We have help and support when we need it. All humans need these feelings. When we are here our bodies and minds work better. 

So getting enough exercise is really important in our overall health. It helps our bones and muscles get stronger, helps our heart and digestive systems work better, and helps our minds learn faster, our moods feel more positive, and increases our self-confidence. 

Here’s 3 exercises you can do help your body-mind get the workout it needs. 

Running – Running is great because it asks the large muscles of our body to move over time – also known as cardiovascular exercise. Plus it’s hard for most of us and creates a mental game we must play if we are going to keep with it. It teaches our body how to function more effectively and our minds how to stick with boring things. 

Strength training – Strength training is about challenging your muscles to be stronger than they are now. There are lots of ways we can build our strength. So we can usually find something where we don’t get too bored. We just have to pick lifting, pushing, pulling things that are just a little bit heavier than what can comfortably do now. However it’s hard to lift heavy things. This challenges our muscles, builds our bones, and helps our minds remember we can do hard things. 

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Yoga – Yoga asana or postures are known for its ability to help us regulate our nervous systems through repetitive movements linked to our breathing. Remember above I talked about how our breathing is tied to our nervous system? This is part of why yoga works so well. Plus it asks us to contract and lengthen our muscles in a rhythmic pattern that helps our muscles stretch and become stronger under stretch. This is important for our range of motion – how much we can move a joint on our body – and keeps us moving throughout our lifetime. Yoga teaches us to be present to each experience as it happens and to just witness it, let it go as it has happened, and move to the next moment. We do not have to hold onto our judgment, frustration, fear, or joy because things are always changing. Yoga teaches us that change is ok and that we can make it through any changes, good or bad.

If you have a healthy and developed nervous system and strong mind you can handle anything that comes your way. Even the hard stuff, the boring stuff, the wanted and the unwanted stuff. A solid nervous system helps you regulate your emotions better and helps us stay present to our experiences which make our relationships, confidence, and ability to impact our world better. 

Today think about how you can move your body and help control your mind using movement. Challenge yourself to do hard things, lift more, run / walk further, or stay present to your breath. Use your body to experience everything that comes your way today. 

What you do today, impacts what you can do tomorrow. Many won’t be willing to put the effort in today to have the life they want tomorrow. 

Be different. 

Be willing to do the hard work of creating the life you want. This is called living an embodied life. 


Want help incorporating these ideas into your mental and physical fitness routines? 

Check out our integrative clinic at Studiob.life 

We work with people online and in person to learn more about how you can live more embodied everyday, understand how you can cultivate good feelings through simple movements and breathing exercises, and look closer at the science behind what’s happening in your psychology and physiology? 


References: 

1 – Silverman, M. E., Grove, D., & Upshaw, C. B. (2006). Why does the heart beat? The discovery of the electrical system of the heart. Circulation, 133, 2775-2781. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.616771

2 – Peluso M. A. M., & Guerra de Andrade, L. H. S. (2005). Physical activity and mental health: The 

association between exercise and mood. Clinics, 60(1), 61-70.

3 – Wipfli, B., Landers, D., Nagoshi C., & Ringenbach, S. (2011). An examination of serotonin and psychological variables in the relationship between exercise and mental health. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 21, 474-481. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01049.x 

4 – Dandekar, A, Mendez, R, & Zhang K. (2015). Cross talk between ER stress, oxidative stress, and inflammation in health and disease. In Christine M. Oslowski (ed.), Stress Responses: Methods and Protocols, Methods in Molecular Biology, vol. 1292, (205-214). Springer Science+Business Media. DOI 10.1007/978-1-4939-2522-3_15

5 – Cunningham-Bussel, A. C., Root,  J.C., Butler, T., Tuescher, O., Pan, H., Epstein, J., Weisholtz, D., S., Pavony, M., Silverman, M. E., Goldstein, M., S.,  Altemus, M., Cloitre, M.,  LeDoux, J., McEwen, B., Stern, E., Silbersweig, D. (2009). Diurnal cortisol amplitude and fronto-limbic activity in response to stressful stimuli. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34(5), 694-704, ISSN 0306-4530, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.11.011.

6 – Vassilakopoulos, T., Zakynthinos, S., Roussos, C., & Economou, M. (1999). Strenuous resistive breathing induces proinflammatory cytokines and stimulates the HPA axis in humans. American Journal of Physiology, 277(4), R10103-R1019. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.1999.277.4.R1013

7 – Cotman, C. W., Berchotold, N. C., & Christie, L-A. (2007). Exercise builds brain health: Key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation. TRENDS in Neurosciences, 30(9), 464-472. DOI:10.1016/j.tins.2007.06.011

8 – Meerman, R., & Brown, A. J. (2014). When somebody loses weight, where does the fat go? Gastroenterologocial Tracts. The BMJ, 349(7257), 1-3. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g7257

9 – Appelhans, B. M., & Luecken, L. J. (2006). Heart rate variability as an index of regulated emotional responding. Review of General Psychology (10)3, 229–240. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.10.3.229

Stacy on the Relational Implicit​ Podcast

In this conversation on the relational implicit podcast, Serge and I talk about a blending of disciplines – – specifically, using exercise science to bridge understanding in somatic psychology interventions. The goal is to bring together the science of the physical body with the science of the emotional body to go beyond symptom reduction and reconnect the self and body.

Enjoy!

Interview with Stacy Reuille-Dupont and Serge Prengal: Using Exercise Science to Bridge Understanding in Therapy

See more conversations like this at Relational Implict. On his podcast, Serge explores somatic psychology, relational therapies, mindfulness and trauma therapies. Most of this exploration takes the form of conversations with psychotherapists, occasionally researchers. Stimulating ideas are discussed, as well as clinical examples. The style of the conversations is reflective, to slow down and deepen the process. Many of the conversations are available in video as well as audio.