How fit is your mental health?

Did you know that a good cardio workout just three times per week can improve your mental health? Neither did I; until I tried it. The thing about exercise is that it causes the brain to release endorphins which are known to create feelings of calm and relaxation. But there are other benefits of exercise for mental health including improved self-esteem and confidence, decreased depression and anxiety symptoms, and the sense of accomplishment and pride you’ll feel when you’ve completed a workout.

If this is all sounding good to you but you are thinking it won’t last, you are not alone. It is well known that many people who begin an exercise routine stop doing so within weeks. Why is that? Well, motivation is a key ingredient, as are time and energy. To combat these, here are a few tips:

  1. Start small and built your routine from there. Starting with a short (5-15 minute) walk daily at a moderate pace is a good way to get started. Many people who start out by going to the gym and doing 60 minutes on the treadmill will quit before they hit the 6 week mark. Instead, take the dog for a walk or head out for an after-dinner stroll with the family.

  2. Track your progress. There are many apps out there, free of charge, to help you do this such as Map My Walk and My Fitness Pal. Tracking your workouts each day will give you a sense of accomplishment and keep you accountable, which brings us to my next tip.

  3. Tell someone about your accomplishments. When you complete a workout, tell a close friend or your spouse how far you walked and how many calories you burned. You’ll feel good about yourself and likely receive praise for your hard work which will leave you wanting to do more.

  4. Reward yourself. Make sure you give yourself the praise you deserve when you complete a workout. Treat yourself to something extra once in a while to keep you motivated.

  5. Have fun! Exercise doesn’t have to be structured and you don’t have to spend hours a day doing it to see improvement in your mental and physical health. Be creative and do things that you enjoy. Take a Zumba class if you like dancing, or take your walks in the park or by the river is you enjoy being outside.

The important thing to consider is that whatever exercise routine you choose, you should enjoy (at least a little bit). If you’re not enjoying it or at least feeling accomplished and proud of yourself afterward, you are more likely to quit after just a few days or weeks. Remember, take it slow, track your progress, share your accomplishments, reward yourself, and most importantly, HAVE FUN!