Are you in a midsummer slump?
Does your day feel off track, but you’re not sure why?
Are little things stressing you out?
Do need more energy to accomplish things you want?
How’s your physical activity level?
From boosting mood and energy levels to decreasing risks of anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and heart attack, the benefits of getting and staying active are far reaching.
If you’re inactive or sitting through most of your day, your brain probably isn’t getting the circulation it needs to work its best. This causes you to feel listless and sluggish. Activity increases circulation, as muscle contractions squeeze blood through the veins and back to the heart. Activity also increases neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins, brain chemicals that create feelings of joy and relief. It decreases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
Exercise can both help treat depression and keep it from coming back. A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine concluded that exercise was comparable to antidepressants in patients with major depressive disorder. After a one-year follow up, the researchers found that patients who exercised regularly had lower depression scores than their less active counterparts.
Have you ever noticed how your body reacts during a stressful situation? You have learned to associate any increase in heart rate with stress. According to a study in Depression and Anxiety, participants in a two-week exercise program decreased their sensitivity to anxiety. Researchers found that patients learned to associate increased heart rate and sweating with safe activities instead of danger.
Good news: You don’t need a diagnosis, and you can get these benefits without playing sports, taking “exercise” classes, or using equipment. Any movement activity- cleaning, dancing, gardening, walking- counts.
It can be hard to start exercising when you’re lacking motivation. Just for today, try a short, easy walk while listening to or singing 3 of your favorite songs. You’ll find the hardest part is putting on your shoes, as you start to feel the benefits within five minutes.
Focusing on your breathing and surroundings gives you a distraction from anxiety-causing concerns and different ways to approach problems. Fresh air and new perspectives can work wonders for your mind; you are re-energized and more efficient in finding solutions. Tune into these immediate feelings of gratification and refreshment, as they are the most enjoyable effects and the most likely to get you to walk again.
After you see how simple it was to take your first walk, you’ll learn that walking is often the simplest step to overcoming sluggishness. Each short walk feels like a mini-vacation- a break from the noises of the day. Think of it as a way to treat yourself. Keep it up, and you’ll be out of your slump faster than you think!
Following through with a plan for yourself and your health helps communicate value to yourself. These accomplishments start you on a positive cycle, building your self-esteem and sense of well-being. The rewards multiply as you gradually notice improvements in muscle tone and weight loss.
Seeing yourself overcome smaller challenges builds confidence that you can tackle bigger ones. Over time, you can increase the number of times you walk per week, the distance you cover, or songs in your playlist.* According to CDC guidelines, you can get important health benefits with 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, which is only about 22 minutes per day, or about 6 songs. You may be more likely try things you’ve been waiting to do, meet new people where you walk, or even sign up for a walk/run 5k!
First things first- tie your shoes and get walking today. Let us know how walking has improved your mood and confidence in the comments!
*Check with your health care provider to be sure it is safe for you to increase exercise intensity.
Reggie Wilson, MS is a medical writer, wellness program manager, and certified personal trainer who loves helping people lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult Obesity Causes and Consequences. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/causes.html Accessed June 25, 2017.
Blumenthal JA et al. Psychosom Med. 2007 Sep-Oct;69(7):587-96. Epub 2007 Sep 10. Available https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17846259. Accessed June 25, 2017.
Hoffman BM et al. Exercise and pharmacotherapy in patients with major depression: one-year follow-up of the SMILE study. Psychosom Med. 2011 Feb-Mar;73(2):127-33. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31820433a5. Epub 2010 Dec 10. Available https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21148807 Accessed June 25, 2017.
Smits JA, Berry AC, Rosenfield D, Powers MB, Behar E, Otto MW. Reducing anxiety sensitivity with exercise. Depress Anxiety. 2008;25(8):689-99. doi: 10.1002/da.20411. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18729145. Accessed June 25, 2017.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/ Accessed June 25, 2017.