What are the mental health benefits of exercise?
Continuing this series of blogs, I will talk about how exercise can help with ADHD, PTSD and Trauma today. (See part 1 on stress and part 2 on depression and anxiety if you missed them), and if you are thinking you don't have the time or motivation, I talk a bit about that in a post coming soon, so keep an eye on this blog.
Exercise and ADHD
Exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s levels of dopamine, nor-epinephrine, and serotonin—all of which affect focus and attention. In this way, exercise works in much the same way as many ADHD medications.
Exercise and PTSD and trauma
Evidence suggests that by really mindfully focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system 'unfreeze' itself and move out of the immobilization type stress responses that characterize PTSD or trauma. Instead of allowing your mind to wander, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles as you exercise, creating the mind-muscle links which strengthen our mindful focus. Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legs—such as walking, running, swimming, weight training, or dancing—are some of your best choices.
Outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing and skiing (downhill and cross-country) have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
So how much do I need to do?
In the same way depression and anxiety health can present some challenges within our own minds in terms of not being able to get motivated, which I covered in my last post, similarly other challenges to our mental health such as ADHD, PTSD and other Trauma can interfere with motivation and consistency in exercising however as before, in general the amount of time required to provide the much needed boost is probably not as much as you think, and I cover this again below.
You don’t need to devote hours to training at the gym, taking endless cardio sessions or running daily marathons. You can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise with 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week, and even better, they can be broken into smaller chunks.
If that still seems intimidating, don’t worry. Even just a few minutes of physical activity are better than none at all. If you feel you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too.
Start with small sized chunks of exercise of 5 or 10 minutes and slowly increase your time when you feel you are ready, or as part of a goal you might set with your Life Coach. The way our bodies adapt and benefit from exercise means the more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more.
The key is to commit, through Life Coaching goals, to some moderate physical activity—however little—on most days, and as you build a new neural pathway representing exercise and it becomes a (good) habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities, but this is not a part time of fad you take up for a short period of time. You have to keep at it for the benefits of exercise to begin to pay off.
If you are wondering what exactly 'Moderate' means when it comes to exercise, it has been shown in recent research that for the majority of us, it means:
- That you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not out of breath. For example, you should be able to chat with your walking partner, but not easily sing a song.
- That your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.
Why not give it a go and see how quickly you feel the benefits? Talk with your Life Coach or Personal Trainer if you have one, who will also add extra motivation for you to succeed, or simply look up the huge amount of information available online to determine a routine for yourself. Be aware that not everything you read will be ideal for you as an individual though, so where possible, try and find a good (see my previous post on Life Coaches) Coach to help you, or if you ARE going to head to a gym, exercise class or health club, ask the coaches there for advice.
Remember to take is slow and build up. No-one likes those nagging injuries that come from overdoing something or not preparing properly.
Check back in next week for more on exercise and well-being.