As I mentioned in my post yesterday, it's Mental Health Awareness Week in Canada. That means that I'll be blogging each day this week with a different mental health topic. So let's talk about exercise today - not one of of my favourite things, I'll admit. I have often wished that I had that magic gene that would make me bound out of bed each day, eager to go for a run or play tennis or something. Nope - don't have it. But I cannot deny the power of exercise in maintaining mental wellness or in recovery from mental illness.
We all know that exercise releases endorphins which make us feel good. But there are other things that happen when we exercise. It can also boost self confidence. Yesterday I wrote about self esteem and the hit it can take when a person is depressed. When you exercise on a regular basis you start to feel better because you are releasing those feel good chemicals and then you start to look better. And I am not talking necessarily about weight loss; I mean that when you start to improve your self image you begin to carry yourself in a different way. Loving yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin can be a difficult place to get to but exercise can help get you there.
Exercise can also be a great way to alleviate anxiety and reduce stress. I tend to walk a lot because I live in the heart of the city, close to my place of work. When I walk to work in the morning I have the luxury of walking along a beautiful body of water. Being around some nature in the busy city makes me smile and sets me up for the day. And if I have had a challenging day, walking home helps me let go of the stress. I often say to myself, 'you are walking away' and then I have a twenty minute walk to decompress before I get home. It usually works.
And let's not forget that exercise helps you lose weight. When I went through my last major depressive episode I gained twenty pounds over the course of a year. Let me tell you, that will make you feel not so great about yourself when you are already feeling pretty low. It was often impossible to get out of bed so imagine how hard it was to go for a walk. I started small - just a walk around the block. It got me out of the house and gave me a sense of purpose, a goal for that day. Walking has helped me take some of that weight off, slowly but surely.
I have a ways to go when it comes to embracing exercise. Frankly, I am not sure that I ever will fully embrace it - maybe a hand shake will have to do. But I'll keep at it because I will never give up because the investment in my mental and physical health is far too valuable to me.
P.S. For more about the mental health benefits of exercise read this article from Huffington Post.