One of the simplest is exercise. That’s right, exercise. If visions of sweaty bodies and working out to near exhaustion come to mind, take heart. It isn’t all that difficult to get involved in some sort of physical exercise that you can do regularly–and not worry that you need special training or you’ll be developing a bodybuilder’s physique.
In fact, getting started on exercise is as simple as making the decision to do so and then acting upon that intention.
First, however, here are some insights into how exercise can lift your mood in recovery.
The Exercise Triple-Bundle
Did you know that besides helping to stave off sadness, exercise can also reduce overall fatigue and help fight anxiety? Think of it as the exercise triple bundle–and it doesn’t cost you a penny.
What is it about working out or getting out and taking a hike that results in these benefits? When you move your body, what’s really going on in there?
Physically speaking, when you exercise, your brain starts producing endorphins. These are chemicals naturally found in the brain that help elevate mood, improve concentration and brain functioning, and result in an overall sense of well-being. Translation: you start to feel good.
But there’s another process going on when you exercise and that is the reduction in the levels of cortisol. During stressful times, the human body exhibits a fight-or-flight syndrome. That’s due to cortisol, a steroid hormone produced under stress. You can balance out cortisol levels in the human body through exercise.
And reduction in cortisol levels can help stabilize your mood and prevent an anxiety attack.
What is Effective Exercising?
While any exercise is better than no exercise, there is a way to ensure that you’re getting maximum benefits from your routine. Experts say that even moderate aerobic exercise, done three to four times a week, will result in a pronounced improvement in a relatively quick time frame.
That’s good news for those who may be leery about having to take up a strenuous sport, engage in recreational pursuits that may require extensive conditioning, or who just want to start off easy.
What you may find surprising is that different forms of exercise target different issues of depression or the blues. For example, you can recharge mentally and reduce stress with a long, peaceful walk. Whether it is in your neighborhood, up and down the sidewalks for a few-block radius of your home or at a nature preserve or a hiking trail, the location isn’t as important as the actual walk.
If you are looking to maintain muscle tone and enhance your appearance at the same time you experience a greater sense of well-being, free weights might be the answer.
For an immediate mood enhancement, try short, intense workouts: about 30 minutes of exercise to the point where you’re breathing hard. What this does is release pain-inhibiting endorphins that quickly go to work to lift your mood.
Alternating aerobic exercise with free weights is a good workout regime for maximum overall benefit.
Keep in mind that you need to start slow and work your way up to an ideal exercise routine level in order to avoid burnout. In addition, whatever you decide to do, be consistent. You don’t want to begin a routine only to put it on the back burner for weeks. After some period of time goes by, you’ll be less likely to want to return to your exercise schedule and it may be harder to get back into it due to a mental block that you’ve put in place.
How to Get Started Exercising Without Killing Yourself
If you want to begin a regular exercise routine, here are some tips to keep in mind so that you’re engaging in healthy exercise but not overdoing it.
- Be sure you’re OK to exercise. It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. You need to be sure you’re fit enough to begin an exercise program. If you have any doubts about even mild forms of exercise, check with your doctor before you embark on that long, peaceful walk near your home or at the lake.
- Bring a friend. For some individuals, there is nothing so boring as exercising alone. That’s probably why gym memberships are so popular. But you don’t need to join an expensive gym to reap the benefits of exercising with others. When you’re going for a walk or a run or some other form of exercise where more than one can participate, bring a friend with you. Having someone to talk with while you exercise can even make exercising seem like fun.
- Get ready. Maybe you want or need a reminder that it’s time to exercise. This can be as simple as setting out the clothes you plan to wear the next day when you go on your walk or head out to the garden to engage in some power-weeding. You can also use post-it notes, or put alerts on your calendar or email program. As long as you get the message–when you get the message–you’ll be fine. The point is to remember to do some form of exercise daily. If a reminder will help, by all means, use it.
- Vary the routine. The way around certain boredom is to mix up your routine. Every other day, try walking a different route. Or, alternate free weights and aerobic exercise. Other ways to vary the routine include using different exercise machines at the gym, listening to different music, even wearing different colors or types of exercise clothing.
- Track schedule and progress. If you are diligent about recording your schedule and tracking your progress, great. If not, why not ask a friend or fellow workout/exercise buddy to check in with you weekly to see how much progress you’ve made toward your goals, how well you’re adhering to your exercise schedule, and to serve as a kind of mentoring pal to keep you motivated. If that friend is similarly engaged in an exercise routine or program, so much the better. You can coach and support one another.
- Give yourself credit – and don’t beat yourself up for missing a day. Let’s face it. There are going to be days when you just don’t feel up to your normal exercise routine. You might be under the weather, having come down with a bug that’s sweeping the office or school or that your kids brought home. Maybe you worked late at the office to finish an important project or stayed up with a sick child. At times like this, instead of feeling bad that you’re missing your workout, be encouraged by the times that you’ve met your goals in the last month and celebrate those victories.
- Set reasonably attainable goals. The idea here is to set goals that you can realistically expect to achieve, at least in the beginning. There’s no sense deciding that you’re going to run a marathon in one week’s time when you’ve never even walked a mile. That might be exaggerating a little, but the point is clear. You have to walk before you can run–in this case, literally.
- Reward yourself for goals achieved. Those reasonable goals that you can realistically achieve? You need to give yourself some accolade or reward each time you accomplish the goal that you’ve set for yourself. What the reward is should be special to you. For example, if you are diligent and consistent in your exercise routine for one week, without missing a day, a reward you consider special might be a massage or an evening out with a friend.
- Focus on short-term improvements. Looking for the long-term gains might result in a feeling of frustration. It’s tough to see the long view when you’re caught up in the moment – and feeling like you’ve already given it about as much as you’ve got. Instead of concentrating on how much better you look physically or how much more strength and stamina you have or how much weight you’ve lost or gained according to your goals, focus on the improvements you can see right away. These include more energy, a better mood and less stress.
Other Ways Exercise Lifts Your Mood
Besides working out stress and tension, there are other ways that exercise can lift your mood in recovery.
First of all, when your mind is clear, it is easier to figure out solutions. Think about it. When you’re swamped with deadlines and trying to find extra hours in the day to devote to all the things you need to do–both for your recovery as well as for work, school and family–clearing your mind and allowing for a blank slate seems almost impossible. After all, aren’t your thoughts constantly churning, calculating what you have to do and how and when and most of all, can you get it all done in a single day?
Exercising helps you sweep away those ceaseless and aggravating reminders that you’re not getting enough done. Here’s how to do it:
- Focus on your exercise.
- Count your breaths or your steps or repetitions.
- Visualize your way up the trail or around the lakeside path.
- Allow your mind to be swept clean of extraneous demands. You will find that once you’ve allowed room inside your head, simple and elegant solutions may manifest in the now-open space.
Here is a little secret: Exercise is the great equalizer. You don’t have to say much to get benefit from it. If you’re shy and still vulnerable, you can be in a gym where others are exercising and keep to yourself. You’re still out and among people who are engaged in physical exercise. You’re getting a sense of community, even if you’re not yet ready to dive in and strike up a conversation. You’re also working on getting your body moving again, on doing something positive for yourself. You are taking action that will benefit your recovery.
Establishing a regular exercise regimen means that there’s always something to look forward to. There’s no worry or wonder about what you’re going to do tomorrow morning. You already have your schedule figured out. It’s just a matter of doing it. You show up, literally, and you’re ready to go.
Where this really makes an impact is on days when you’ve had a setback or disappointment and are feeling a little more down than usual. By getting back into your exercise routine, you can help lift yourself out of the doldrums in no time flat. You will wind up with a new perspective on whatever it was that bothered you to begin with and likely have more motivation and enthusiasm to tackle other items on your recovery to-do list.
Ready, Set, Grow
Just start somewhere. Go slow and take your time getting acquainted with the kind of exercise program or schedule that works best for you. Look at this as a fun project with incredible benefits.
Bottom line: when you are ready–as in, you’ve made the decision to try exercise to help lift your mood–make a plan, spring into action, and watch yourself grow. In no time at all, you are likely to find that not only has your mood improved, but you have more energy, enthusiasm and joy in life. Even the everyday stresses and tensions won’t seem as high a hurdle, because now you have an effective tool to deal with them.
Since there’s no time like the present, isn’t it time to consider incorporating some form of exercise into your daily routine?