Exercise & Mental Heath: Creating a New Routine at Home
Exercise. We all know it’s good for us. We know it makes us feel better in the long term. It helps us handle stress and combined with a healthy diet it can help to keep our immune system in tip top shape. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins that affect how we see and process the world around us. Those endorphins elevate our mood. Our bodies are created with amazing capabilities if we treat them properly.
If you were a person (like myself) who had a gym membership, you’re probably feeling a bit like a fish out of water with the closure of all the fitness centers and gyms. I know many of us enjoyed the social aspect of working out as much (or some days more!) than the other more obvious physical benefits. Maybe you’re someone who has always preferred to “go at it” alone when it comes to fitness, and so this is less of a disruption for you. Either way, I think it’s safe to say we are on the same page when it comes to one thing: Exercise is an important part of living a healthy life.
Given the current landscape, I would argue that it is more important than ever that we find time to care for ourselves. As much as I may want to curl up on the couch and just eat cheezies and binge watch Netflix, that doesn’t make me feel better in the long term and doesn’t fuel my body with what it needs. What does make me feel better is quite simple. Healthy food (mostly 😉) daily exercise and proper sleep. When it comes to exercise these days, we are forced to go back to basics. Unless you’re someone who is fortunate enough to have a home gym, you likely don’t have access to the fancy equipment and bells and whistles that many of us have become accustomed to. But while we may not have our regular fitness clubs available, we do have a variety of options that are less complicated, less expensive, and just as good for us. If you are someone who has not really made fitness a part of your life up to now, then it’s the perfect time to implement a simple routine into your day. I’d like to share some of the options that I have found work well these days, and hopefully you can find one or two that are a good fit for you.
Go for a walk
I know. It sounds so simple. It is so simple, yet there are multiple studies and reports that tout the benefits of a good brisk walk. It helps your cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness (your heart and lungs), and helps to control conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint and muscular pain and diabetes. It helps to maintain bone mass, and thereby decreases the risk of osteoporosis. Have I sold you yet? If you find walking a bit boring, why not download and listen to an audio book while you walk or create a great playlist of all your favourite songs. You could even practice multi tasking and walk while you have that business call. There is something wonderful that happens when you combine fresh air and movement. It’s downright magical. And if you have a four-legged friend, even better!
Running has a lot of the same benefits as walking, with just a couple of extras. When you run, your body releases a couple of powerful feel good chemicals. Endorphins and endocannabinoids. Yes, the latter sounds a lot like cannabis for a reason. There is a lot of information available on both chemicals, but suffice to say, “runner’s high” is a real thing. There are also studies that suggest that running helps to build bone mass. I have a lot of friends who are runners, and in my determination and quest to become a runner, I have downloaded a learn to run app on my phone. It gives me prompts to walk and run, and over a few weeks, increases the time that I run as opposed to walking. You need a decent pair of sneakers, some grit and determination. My goal is to get to 5k in the next 4 weeks, but even if I don’t, I’m hoping for those extra benefits that come with running 😉 You can find a multitude of different apps that are associated with learning to run or look for a program online.
I’m not necessarily referring to the advanced yoga poses that we all have seen. No pretzel moves, no big inversions. While those are beautiful, and very impressive, let’s think more about yoga for the average person. I am a huge fan of yoga. I have not found another form of exercise that even comes close to making me feel as good as a yoga class can. It combines strength with balance and flexibility, and then connects your mind to your body using breath. It is sublime. Without geeking out too much here, there is a lot of science when it comes to yoga. We have a nerve in our bodies (the longest cranial nerve actually) called the vagus nerve. This nerve controls our parasympathetic nervous system (that is the system that acts opposite to our fight or flight system. It serves to slow our heart rate, and aid in digestion. In short form, it restores the body to a calm and composed state). One of the ways we can stimulate the vagus nerve is with deep, slow diaphragmatic breaths (breathing deeply using your diaphragm. Think about your belly moving, more than your upper chest). The most important aspect of any yoga class is breath. So as we move through the postures, and focus on that very important breath, we are stimulating that nerve that helps to restore quiet to our mind and body. I encourage you to include the practice of yoga in your life. Approach yoga as a journey and have fun!
All you need is a yoga mat, and even that is not mandatory if you have a bit of carpet in your home. There are a lot of great resources and websites that are offering classes online for free. Lululemon has a great library of videos that are free for you to explore, from beginner to advanced, but they are just one of many. Our local yoga co-op is also offering free on-line live classes. Check around and I’m sure you can find one in your area.
This acronym stands for high intensity interval training. The idea here, is that you go at maximum effort for a specific amount of time, have short rests, and then repeat. These workouts have been shown to be more effective for heart health, fat loss and strength gain than traditional cardo or strength training. One of the benefits of a HIIT workout is that it can help to burn the same, or more, calories than traditional exercise, but in a shorter amount of time. Studies also show that due to the intensity of the workout, your metabolism can stay elevated for hours after your workout. Oxygen consumption also improves as much as traditional endurance training, even if you only exercise about half as long. All this to say, you get big bang for your short exercise buck. Perfect for those who don’t have a lot of time to commit to exercise. HIIT Workouts are generally 10 to 30 minutes in duration, many just use body weight, and don’t require any extra equipment. These types of workouts satisfy my need for variety and can be really fun. Again, there are a variety of workouts available online, so look for one that fits your fitness level. Remember to do a gentle warm up and some stretches/cool down if there isn’t one included in the workout.
I hope I’ve inspired you to look at these days as an opportunity to learn something new. Try something different. Take this time and create a new exercise routine. Discover, or in some cases, re-discover, an activity that you love.
Breathe deeply, release those feel good endorphins, and find joy in your life.
Author: Kim Dykeman