Mental Health and Physical Activity
Generally the number one reason anyone decides to start an exercise program boils down to physique. Of course, there are the physical health benefits that come with weight loss and increased physical activity: lower blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity, strengthened bones and muscles, reduced risk of numerous types of cancer and heart disease. But, did you know you can use exercise to beat the blues and conquer anxiety?
My Journey with Anxiety and Weight Lifting
Like many other women across America, I’ve always struggled with managing stress and generalized anxiety. However, several years ago I went through a stressful situation that didn’t resolve quickly and my anxiety spun out of control. It was as if one bad thought led to another. My thoughts were quickly turning irrational in a way I couldn’t seem to reverse. I had just fallen out of my exercise routine due to a minor injury that landed me in physical therapy while training for a half-marathon. (Separate note of caution: always cross train to prevent injuries.) Once I got out of the habit of running, I just kind of fell out of exercise altogether.
Strength Training and Stress Relief
I finally made a decision to start strength training. Mentally, I still didn’t feel like running and knew it was time to start lifting substantial weights (not those 5 lb dumbbells sitting in my closet at home) in an attempt to cross train better. I will never forget that first lifting session at the gym. It was as if all my worries, anxieties, and unreasonable thoughts resolved in 45 minutes.
I could see clearly.
I felt positive and encouraged and so incredibly good.
I had finally tapped into my “old self.”
As I continued lifting and adding other exercises, I continued to feel better. While the improvement in my mood was immediate I also noticed longer lasting benefits as the days wore on. The good feeling did not go away the next morning. But I did realize if I found myself inactive for too many days I would start to feel the daily stress more or get more anxious.
This was really the first time I put together the positive effect that exercise was having on my overall daily mood beyond the immediate benefit. Sometimes you can learn something in school or read it in a magazine, but it doesn’t come to life until later. I hope that if you have difficulty detaching from your daily stressors, you will try one weight lifting session and notice how your mind reacts.
Exercise to Beat the Blues
Physical activity is a critical component of maintaining a positive mental health. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise works just as well as medication on anxiety and depression in many. Not only can one good session of exercise help to alleviate symptoms for hours, but working an exercise routine into your life helps over a longer timespan.
And don’t feel like you have to do a 1 hour workout to see the benefits. Even a 10 minute brisk walk has shown improvement in many people. Next time you are feeling stressed or down in the dumps, lace up your shoes and take a quick jaunt in the park or spend 30 minutes lifting weights. If you are finding it difficult to get back into your routine like I did, try something new. Try cross fit, or yoga, or spinning. Hop on that bike you haven’t sat on for 20 years. Or you can try one of my favorite 30 minute programs, Kayla Itsines BBG. Whatever you decide to do, give it a couple weeks to get a good feel for it. Who knows, you may find something you’re passionate about, and move beyond doing exercise to beat the blues.