We all know exercise is important for our physical well-being. The physiological adaptations that occur when we regularly engage in an exercise routine can be observed under the microscope at the doctor’s office (and with the naked eye). However, what is not often talked about is that beyond these physical benefits, there are mental benefits to incorporating a regular exercise routine into your schedule. How often does your mental health professional connect the dots between your activity level and what your overall mood was like in the past week? For a while, there has been anecdotal evidence that supported the use of exercise to combat symptoms of depression and anxiety. Now, the numbers are in. Regular exercise is comparable to medication at reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Now, I know what you may be thinking. “I’ve tried to incorporate an exercise routine before, but just can’t seem to stick with it.” Unfortunately, this is an all too common predicament we find ourselves in. It may be difficult to find the time, or maybe there doesn’t seem to be any type of exercise that we find enjoyable. I am hoping that by addressing these common obstacles with some solutions, we can all find our way to integrating exercise into our routines to reap the psychological benefits.
“I just don’t have the energy to start.” This thought can be the biggest roadblock between you and wellness. We often believe that in order for us to do something, we have to be motivated to do it. Taking a page from the cognitive behavioral therapy book; “behavior before feeling.” What I mean by this is that in order to do something, that first step can, and often is, the make or break moment between what you want to do and actually doing it. How many people want to go to the gym but don’t? Many. How many people get themselves through the gym doors and then turn around and go home? Not many. Human beings are adaptation machines. By finding a way to put ourselves into the environment, biology takes over and we find ourselves “motivated” to take action.
“I don’t have any time in my day to commit to exercising.” Got ten minutes? Try completing as many burpees as you can in this amount of time and tell me that you can’t get a good workout with limited time. “Black and white” thinking is a type of cognitive distortion where the individual will believe something is either entirely good or entirely bad. For example, if you drop a mug by accident and break it you might say to yourself “I always do this! I am such a klutz!” “Always” suggests that every time you have a mug, you drop it and break it. To use this language when you are not dropping and breaking every mug you pick up is to engage in “black and white” thinking.
Bringing it back to the topic at hand, people may think a small amount of exercise is not good enough, so why bother if I can only exercise once this week or for ten minutes this day? To propose a reframe in thinking, what if we looked at exercise from a macro picture? Three, ten minute exercise sessions per week equates to thirty minutes of exercise in a week. Thirty minutes of exercise per week equates to 1,500 minutes of exercise in a year. Compare this to somebody who works out once every other week but for 45 minutes. Sure this person is working out for longer when they do, but looking at the whole year they are exercising a total of 1,125 minutes per year.
Lastly, what if I can’t seem to find what I enjoy? Community can be the great equalizer when it comes to fun and exercise. Human beings are social creatures. We have advanced in the way that we have because of our ability to communicate and build strong bonds and relationships with others. One of the many benefits to being in the 21st century is that finding groups or communities is as easy as firing up the laptop or even going on your phone. There are many running groups or intramural sports groups that can tap into this deep biological fulfillment we have as humans to be a part of something with others. What may be on the other side of joining that group? Wellness.
Stephen Neer, MS, LPC is a psychotherapist at Lukin Center for Psychotherapy who specializes in treating children, adolescents, and young adults experiencing anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and psychosocial and relational issues. He also has extensive knowledge of the autism spectrum. Steven’s use of the therapeutic alliance encourages an open, trusting relationship, and his theoretical approach incorporates the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), behavioral therapy, and person-centered therapy. His objective is to assist clients in recognizing their life goals, and to help them apply rational thinking to overcome the obstacles blocking them from those goals. He is trained in nutritional approaches, and incorporates them into his practice as well. Throughout his graduate studies, Stephen served as the director of a therapeutic summer day camp for individuals in need of social skills development and support. He has extensive knowledge of the autism spectrum, and has provided individual, group, and family therapy services at an outpatient setting for clients with autism. Stephen earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in mental health counseling from Marist College.
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