Help your body help your mind, exercise.

     Everyone talks about how exercise is beneficial for looking good, but research shows the clear benefit which exercise has to feel good, as well.  In addition to reducing the risk for heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, bone fractures, and some types of cancer; exercise improves the brain’s functioning and can improve depression and anxiety, concentration, memory, sleep, vitality and perceived quality of life. There are studies showing the benefits of exercise to be comparable to or better than the effects of therapy and medicines on mood symptoms!  The trick to making exercise work is to make exercise a daily habit.

How does this work?

     Bodies use energy to carry out all the functions of living. Metabolism is basically the process of bodies retrieving that energy from either food or fat. Metabolic rate is the speed at which metabolism occurs. The body works best when it knows what to expect – that’s why habits are both effective and difficult to break/change. When there is a consistent and predictable pattern of food coming in, bodies will adapt the metabolic rate to take in the amount of food that is needed for the processes of living. If the food intake is more than the amount needed for these activities, the body stores the extra food energy in the form of fat. When the food intake is less than the amount needed for these activities, the body slows the metabolic rate down to conserve the energy that it has and collects as much as it can from the food passing through. For this reason, skipping meals is a poor option for weight loss because the body recognizes a change and doesn’t know what to do with it. The body will go into survival mode and protect itself from starving. The best combination for balanced functioning is consistent meals and snacks with a consistent activity level. That way the metabolic rate remains high because the body knows that it has more food coming, and will use the food energy available to keep up with the needs of the activity level.

How does exercise affect mood?

     Scientists believe that the benefit of exercise on the mood is not direct, but rather, a combination of many mechanisms. At a basic level, exercise increases the blood flow to the brain which can help the brain remove toxins from the tissues.  Exercise can inducea relaxed body state by releasing endorphins (endogenous opioids) within the Central Nervous System (CNS).  Further, endorphins activate biofeedback mechanisms to reduce perception of pain, energize the body, and improve your outlook.  It is believed that the endorphins induce changes in levels of factors and neurotransmitters in the brain.  Exercise also gives you something to do which distracts the brain from daily stress and reduces serum cortisol, a hormone released in response to physical and mental stress.  Plus, on a psychological level exercise has been proven to boost self-esteem.

Exercise Prescription:
     Some research has shown that the minimum effective “dose” of exercise is at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity 5 days per week.  We believe that any amount of exercise can be helpful towards eventually reaching your goals.  The key is to make a plan.  Find an activity that you can enjoy (or at least tolerate!) that raises your heart rate. Examples include walking, jogging, swimming, yard work, climbing stairs, yoga, working in the yard or garden, dancing, and using a hoola-hoop or trampoline. If it makes you sweaty, it counts and You-tube is a great resource for 15 minute activity ideas. Start with something easy that you know you can accomplish – walk around the block or dance to 2 songs. Then, work up to a more difficult goal. Use a timer or stop watch if it helps. Mark your calendar with what you did or that you exercised. This will give you a visual reminder of your accomplishment and progress. There are also plenty of cell phone apps, if that’s your thing. Be sure to identify a support person to help maintain motivation and accountability. Remember that bodies and brains like habits and routines. Once you establish a pattern, your body will come to expect and enjoy it.

     Often times it’s not easy to change our schedules, and we think that we don’t have the time to exercise. Realistically though, it’s only 30 minutes! Make the time, or learn to multi-task. Do calf-raises while you brush your teeth or do the dishes, walk while you eat your lunch, do crunches or push-ups each commercial break, dance in the shower… The benefits are proven over and over again. Make exercise a part of your life.

References include:
Exercise:  Help your brain by increasing your activity
Exercise Prescription: A Practical Effective Therapy for Depression by Dr. K.S. Sidhu, Dr. P. Vandana, and Dr. R. Balon of Wayne State University
The best preventative medicine? Exercise by Nanci Hellmich of USA Today