As we approach the end of August, many of us are getting into the swing of the new school year or new routines either for ourselves or in our family. For many of us we are finding that our brains are tired. Whether it be from the exhaustion of living during a pandemic rollercoaster, or the concerns around political, global, and societal issues, or simply from feeling like we can’t catch our breath in our lives, we are tired.
Many of us have found that our mental wellbeing may be struggling more than usual. We have less patience, our fuses are shorter, and it is easier to lash out about something that might not have bothered us as much before. More and more people are finding their need to partner with a counselor to walk through these difficulties because we simply do not have the capacity to handle all that is going on. Our brains have been on overdrive. And to be honest, outside of the pandemic, often our brains are on overdrive.
As counselor’s our hope is to help provide you with the tools to take your life and lead it in the direction you want to go. One of the tools that can be very helpful that is not always utilized is exercise or movement. Our bodies were made to be holistic. We are body, soul, spirit. Mark 12:30 reminds us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” When one part of us is struggling we can see it affect the other parts of our being. In the same way, when we work on one part of ourselves, the benefits seep into the other areas. Physical movement is a simple but effective tool to help our mental health.
There are many studies that prove that cardiovascular exercise helps improve one’s focus. Schools and students have tested this by adding a P.E. class before the start of the school day. Those who participated found their grades increased significantly. Movement brings clarity to our brain and helps us think and focus better. Students with ADD or ADHD have found exercise greatly increases their ability to focus. Another study showed that exercise can both protect and improve memory. Those who are susceptible to or have memory diseases have found movement helps preserve and protect their brain.
Exercise releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain which help you feel good. Movement releases these chemicals and they are picked up in the areas of the brain that regulate stress response. This in turn helps calm our brain’s stress response. Studies have shown that simply exercising three times a week increases the dopamine (another feel good chemical) in a person. In the words of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, “Endorphins make you happy and happy people don’t kill their husbands!”
Movement also gives you a challenge that you have overcome. If you get up and complete a workout, when you are faced with adversities throughout your day you have a reference point of already knowing you can do hard things. This is something we often overlook because what does one workout truly do? But the truth is, our lives are made up of micro habits. So working towards moving and improving 1% every day adds up to a lot over time! The book Atomic Habits talks about this in great detail. James Clear reminds us that we are not trying to move mountains or change our entire lives, but to take one intentional step every day. So, moving a little but every day helps us find ourselves at the top of a mountain. What we thought we couldn’t reach, we now stand at the top simply by doing a little habit every day.
Movement is not always easy to do. Sometimes we are not motivated or simply don’t want to! So here are three tips to stay motivated:
Keep it SIMPLE. Exercise does not have to be a big time commitment, or require lots of equipment, or even a gym membership. Moving 15 minutes a day is a great way to start. I am currently part of an online gym that makes workouts you can do in under 20 minutes with one pair of dumbbells. This is how I’ve exercised for almost a year now and I’ve found that it’s the most fitness consistency I’ve had since high school team sports. I don’t get caught up in the need to exercise for long periods of time for it to count. Neither do you. If you like it, do it!
Do what you ENJOY. Because of our society, we often think exercise has to be painful, difficult, and unenjoyable to count. This is simply not true. Moving our bodies has a great effect on our mood, memory, and ability to handle some of what life throws at us. So do what you enjoy. I take a walk every morning with my dog and baby boy. It’s not a marathon, nor is it especially fast. But it does bring great joy to all three of us and starts our day off right. The range of activities one could do: yoga, hiking, walking, climbing, lifting weights, biking, swimming, walking your dog, frisbee in the park, any sports, etc. etc. etc!
Find COMMUNITY to join you. Most things in life are better with a friend. Movement is one of them. Next time you go for a coffee date with a friend, make it a walking through the park occasion. Or go on an adventure of _____________(you fill in the blank). Together we have more fun and together we grow and heal best.
Exercise is a beautiful tool to help us feel more in control of our lives in the midst of the chaos of life. We want to empower our communities to have the best possible outcomes in life. In the world of counseling, we unpack lots of feelings, struggles, traumas, situations that need processing, and many more. Exercise and movement help us prepare our brain to mentally be able to process things with a little more clarity of mind. We could talk for hours more about this subject, but for now just know: we care about you. All of you.