May 7, 2021

“Make Each Step Count” Community Challenge – Week 2

General Health

Welcome back, everyone!

Week 2! I bet you are feeling great from starting your first week of this challenge, and hopefully you have started experiencing the GREAT benefits of exercise—such as feeling stronger, more energy, better sleep, clothes fitting a bit better and even the scale number moving.

Week 2’s topic is an important one, and one that, especially after the last year, should be one that is a focus for everyone: Exercise and Mental Health. What’s even cooler—is that May is “National Mental Health Month”, so this ties in perfectly with the theme.

Everyone has stress in their lives, and it ebbs and flows—some stress is “good” stress (think…packing/planning for vacation, planning a wedding, etc.) and some stress is bad (think…losing a job, death, divorce, a GLOBAL PANDEMIC). Many times, the “good” stress will go away after the event, but the bad stress may linger a long time in your life, and this can contribute to additional health conditions, and leave you not feeling your best. In addition to the stress, other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, can manifest further with excess stress, and it can be challenge to cope with the condition and side effects.  Exercise has been proven to be beneficial with mental health and stress concerns in your life, and just like the other great ways it helps your health (blood pressure, weight loss, musculoskeletal health…just to name a few), it can help you with whatever you are going through.

I found a fantastic abstract article written by two M.D.’s and one Ph. D.  titled Exercise for mental health that broke down how physical activity increased blood flow to the brain, but notably to the areas that helps a person respond to stress/anxiety/depression, their mood and motivation—and how with regular exercise, a person can receive these emotional health/mental health benefits from exercising at least 3 days a week for 30 minutes each time (or, if 30 minutes didn’t fit into your schedule, that you could break this up into 10 minute chunks of time).  That’s doable, right?

Maybe you have experienced this change in mood/sensation/feeling after a workout—sometimes you may have heard this referred to as the “runner’s high”; it can feel euphoric, or a general sense of “ahhhhhhhhhhhhh” after a workout. Perhaps after a tough situation, or day, if you’ve done exercise, your mind seems to be a bit clearer and you feel a bit more able to tackle the situation. Each person’s response is different to exercise, but, utilizing movement is a great way to take a little time out of your day to focus on you, be mindful, and to keep you feeling your best. Exercise won’t take away the stress or anxiety, but it can help you cope and give you a change in perspective.

Now…it’s a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, right? I wish I had the magic phrase/pill/potion that would give you an exuberance of motivation (wow, I could really retire early if I found that) but each person has to dig deep to find what they need to start the process and keep going with their health changes, be it exercise, nutrition or stress management. What I can tell you is that it does become easier as you start to build habits (aka…have to do it more than once) and you see progress.  Exercise is easier when it’s something you enjoy, have accountability (friend, family member, or class), and have planned it out with laying out your clothes and blocking off your calendar.

One step at a time friends—you can do it!


Source: Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry8(2), 106.