Exercise for Better Mental Health
Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.
In the area of research into complementary and alternative therapies for mental health there’s no topic that is more thoroughly researched than the effect of exercise. Over the past 15 years or so, there have been thousands of studies extolling the benefits of all types of exercise for reducing the symptoms of anxiety, depression, addiction and for helping to improve sleep. One of the biggest problems for many people, however, is finding the time to exercise. Here are simple ways to increase the chances that you can stay on the mark with exercise and improve you mood in the process.
Start slow. One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting an exercise plan is starting too fast or too hard. Start as slow as possible with still being sure you are actually doing something. Concern yourself with improving endurance over time. The important thing in the beginning is to get moving and to make your exercise enjoyable so you’ll want to do it again.
Increase exercise gradually. Once you find yourself getting used to a certain level of exercise, then you will want to increase it. You cannot just ride a bike for 30 minutes three times a week during the course of a year. If you do, your body will adjust to the stress of the exercise and you will see less results than if you step it up. Remember to gradually increase the level of an exercise routine once you have adjusted to it. Do this slowly meaning every two to three weeks.
Ramp up your workouts. After you have become accustom to your exercise routine, you will want to undertake period of higher intensity. This increases endurance and burns more calories. Instead of biking slowly and steadily for your entire workout do shorter bursts of intense biking with periods of rest in between the spurts. You can do this with most types of aerobic exercise. Remember, higher intensity exercise will increase the amount of calories burned and improve overall performance. To mix it up, do this every other workout.
Schedule specific times for your workouts. In your calendar, schedule appointments with yourself to exercise, spelling out the time and place. If you do this just as you would with any other important appointment, it reminds you that it is something that is essential. Make sure to prioritize it as the most important appointment on your calendar. Research shows that if a person can do exercise at the same time every day for a month, he or she is more likely to make it a consistent habit. Once your persistence makes it a habit, you will know you are on the right track.
Try not to focus on weight loss. Although you may want to lose some weight, using that as your only goal could actually make maintaining motivation more difficult. This is because you might find that you do not lose weight right away. If you become disappointed just as your are starting – such as within the first month – it could cause you to stop exercising altogether. It is usually best to just get into the habit of exercising first and then focus on weight loss after you’ve established the new habit.
Don’t focus solely on the gym. Some of us feel we have to go to the gym in order to exercise. This is usually because we have the need to feel responsible either to ourselves or a personal trainer. There are other ways to achieve this such as exercise boot camps and martial art classes. For some people, the gym can be convenient because it isn’t close, but it can also be intimidating for beginners and those of us who are self-conscious. If you do go to a gym and are confused about how to use the equipment, use a trainer for at least a session or two. If you can get motivated at home, try walking or jogging in your neighborhood as a start. Whatever you do, try and avoid buying costly at home equipment until you determine if you are the type of person who needs to go to a gym or can workout at home.
Do exercise that is enjoyable. Of course, exercise is not always going to be enjoyable. Research has suggested that most people starting an exercise routine find it to be challenging, but within a few weeks actually report it to be beneficial and look forward to it. The odds of this happening for you are very good, particularly if you find exercise that you enjoy. Try different things; martial arts, yoga, swimming, hiking in nature, weight lifting – the list is really endless. Enjoy yourself and you will find that you tend to look forward to your workouts.
Monitor your progress in a journal. There’s a lot of research in journal writing and making it a habit to write in a journal can help you to track your progress. It can motivate you to watch your progress over time and it is a great way to determine what you are doing right and what you can improve. Additionally, if your are in therapy, you can discuss how your exercise is affecting your mood and if it is reflected in your journal.
In the treatment of anxiety, depression and addiction counseling, exercise is one of the most helpful tools. You know your mood and your body better than anyone else ever could. With this information and a variety of useful methods such as those above, you can learn to optimize your mood and improve sleep as well.
About the Author
Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is a practicing therapist, researcher and author specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and related disorders. Dr. Fredricks is a best-selling author of several books including Healing & Wholeness: Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Mental Health a 650-page compendium and landmark publication that provides a comprehensive overview of complementary and alternative treatments for mental health, with information and research on their effectiveness for treating specific disorders. For more information on Dr. Fredricks work, visit her practice website www.DrRandiFredricks.com.