A couple of months ago, a friend called me in a panic. She shared a number of stressors, including uncertainty about her job, feeling overwhelmed as a mother, increased tension in her marital relationship and feeling “down” lately. She asked for my advice and the first thing I asked was, “How long has it been since you’ve gone for a good run?” Many of us have heard of the positive effects of exercise on weight loss, but did you know that exercise has been linked to improved mood, increased energy and improved sleep quality?
Exercise is defined as planned, structured, repetitive and intentional movement intended to improve or maintain physical fitness. Unfortunately, many of our busy daily lives limit the time available to be physically active and exercise. Most of us spend the majority of our day engaging in sedentary behavior like sitting at a desk for work, driving a vehicle and sitting while watching television. If you take a look at an average workday, how many hours do you spend involved in sedentary tasks? The information in this article is intended to enlighten and possibly encourage those who have wanted to start exercising but have not found the motivation and/or time.
Have you ever thought of why you feel an increase in your mood and decrease in irritability following exercise? After a good workout, everything seems right in the world. This is, in part, because exercise produces changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. Research has shown that exercising three times a week for six weeks increases neuro-connections among areas of the brain that calm anxiety. It increases brain sensitivity for the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine and releases lactate, which can protect against depression. Regular exercise modifies the default state of the nervous system so that it becomes balanced and less prone to fight, flight or fright. Additionally, consistent exercise has also been correlated with heightened self-esteem, ability to connect with others and life satisfaction.
Exercise has not only been shown to improve one’s mood, but also to energize one’s mind and body. One of the primary reasons people give for not exercising is not having the energy after a long day of work. It may seem counterintuitive, but exercise has actually been found to boost energy. How does exercising when you are tired give you energy? When you exercise, more oxygen reaches your brain and bloodstream. Your blood is able to circulate more efficiently, bringing more oxygen to your muscles and allowing for increased functioning throughout your body and heightened energy production. Our society seems to seek the quick fix with energy drinks and caffeine to get that morning boost, but getting active in the morning may give you the long-lasting energy that you are searching for.
There is a vast amount of research that suggests regular exercise also helps with relaxation and sleep. Many factors play a role in negatively affecting our sleep — stress, anxiety, depression and shift work, to name a few. Exercise has been shown to not only positively affect sleep for individuals with more recent sleep difficulty, it has also been shown to improve sleep for individuals suffering from years of insomnia. Specifically, exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality, sleep latency (time it takes to fall asleep), sleep duration, daytime dysfunction and sleep efficiency.
When we consider the positive effects exercise can have on our lives, we see it benefits us to begin developing a plan to get started. Often, I hear people say that they plan to start exercising when their schedule lightens, job and/or hours change, kids finish soccer and so on. These are some of the same individuals who have been giving these same excuses (or others) for years. You do not have to wait until all the stars align to exercise, and chances are, if you are waiting until then, you will probably never start. Think about what you are able to do now, even if it is getting active for five to 10 minutes. Some examples can include stretching in the morning, dancing to music while you clean, walking after dinner, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking/running laps around the park during your daughter’s softball practice. Neuroimaging has shown that the brains of individuals who regularly exercise change over time. This can explain how exercise becomes more rewarding the more you do it. Get creative and figure out what works for you. Regular exposure to exercise will teach your brain to like, want and need it. If you would like to learn how to start an exercise regimen that works for you and become a better version of yourself, please contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 to learn more about our services or to schedule an appointment. Your appointment is confidential. To obtain additional information, you may visit our intranet site (http://intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm).