Imagine there was something you could take to give you energy, help you sleep better, reduce your stress and elevate your mood. Would you be interested? Now, imagine it is all natural, there is no prescription needed and it’s free. It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Well here’s a secret: It’s called exercise.
It may seem too simple to be effective, but it’s true. There are many studies touting the benefits of exercise not just for your physical well-being, but for your emotional health as well. Here are some of the ways exercise makes you feel better:
• It releases the “happy chemicals” in your brain. Exercise releases endorphins, which are the chemicals in your brain that make you feel happy. That’s why you nearly always feel better after a run than before one. There are studies that also show that exercise doesn’t just boost your mood short-term, but can help alleviate long-term depression, as well.
• It reduces feelings of isolation. Exercising with a partner, a workout group or in a class helps you build social connections. Those connections and social circles create a sense of belonging that make you happy. Even if you are running by yourself at lunch, just seeing other people out and connecting with them with a hand wave or a hi can help you feel part of a larger community.
• It forces “me-time.” Our days are so busy with work and family that often the only time we have to ourselves is when our head hits the pillow. Scheduling exercise into your day forces you to have time dedicated solely to yourself.
• It improves your eating habits. Exercising regularly makes you more aware of your body and thus makes you want to eat better. Your improved eating will make you feel better, which then leads to more activity.
• It makes you feel more ownership of your body. For all those pregnant and post-partum mothers out there, exercise makes you remember that your body still belongs to you. It gives you confidence that you still have control over your body – even with someone else growing inside of it!
• It gets you outside. It’s summer in Maine. There’s no way to be outside this time of year and not feel better.
Exercise could be the most powerful way you can enhance your mood and your health. So think for a minute, what is stopping you from doing something that will make you feel better?
Here are some tips:
• Finish this article and get outside immediately. Even if all you have time for is one short walk in whatever you’re wearing, just do it. The hardest part of exercising is taking that first step. Don’t wait for a perfect moment or the right equipment or clothes, just go outside today and walk. Tomorrow you can worry about the other things.
• Make a schedule and stick to it. Many excuses for not exercising are time-related. Don’t let that happen. Put it into your daily schedule. Sign up for a class that forces you to go or have a workout buddy you can’t let down.
• Don’t be afraid of waking up early to exercise. A morning workout will make you feel better than those extra 45 minutes in bed every time.
• Do what you love but don’t be afraid of trying out new sports, as well. Go ahead and check out that dance class, go for a hike, take that kayaking trip. Mix it up however you’d like. Just make sure you try to do something every day.
• Recruit a friend to join you. Imagine if your good friend contacted you to be an exercise buddy. Now, you be that good friend and contact her instead.
• Don’t let pregnancy or babies stop you from exercising. If you’re healthy, there’s no reason not to do it. In fact, the emotional benefits of exercise can be even more apparent in pregnant or post-partum women.
Need more incentive to exercise? The partners and staff at Coastal Women’s Healthcare are hosting our first Pound the Pavement 5K road race on Aug. 9 to raise funds and awareness for post-partum depression. Strollers are welcome, too. All of the funds go to Jenny’s Light, which raises money to help women suffering with postpartum depression. You can get more information at http://coastalwomens5k.com/race-info/.
Now is a great time to begin training for this race. If you need additional help, there are plenty of race-training apps and websites to use. If you’re just getting into shape, Google Couch to 5K and get your training started.
So, as I mentioned, get up now, go outside and start your new training today with a walk. Today is the beginning of your healthier, happier life.
Dr. Erin Dawson-Chalat is an OB/GYN at Coastal Women’s Healthcare in Scarborough. She can be reached at 885-8400 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.