Exercise Research has shown that exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good - boosting your self-esteem, helping you concentrate as well as sleep, look and feel better. Taking part in physical activities can be a great way to meet people. They can also offer us the chance of taking a well-deserved break from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Leading an active life can help to improve your feelings of self-worth and foster confidence. Taking part in a form of exercise that you really enjoy can give you a goal to aim for and a sense of purpose. Aim to do 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. It may sound like a lot, but it isn't as daunting as it first appears. Moderate exercise means being energetic enough that you breathe a little heavier than normal but aren't out of breath, and feel warmer but don't end up hot and sweaty. You don't have to jump in the deep end. Build up slowly, at a pace that suits you. You might like to do 30 minutes per day, or you may prefer two split your time into two 15 minute sessions - it's entirely up to you!


Health benefits from regular exercise that should be emphasized and reinforced include the following:

  • Improved sleep 
  • Increased interest in sex
  • Better endurance
  • Stress relief
  • Improvement in mood
  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
  • Weight reduction
  • Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitnesss


​THE EXERCISE EFFECT

Evidence is mounting for the benefits of exercise, yet psychologists don't often use exercise as part of their treatment arsenal. Here's more research on why they should. If you've ever gone for a run after a stressful day, changes are you felt better afterward. Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect. The links between exercise and mood are pretty strong and extend beyond the short-term. 


MOOD ENHANCEMENT 

Research shows that exercise can help alleviate long-term depression. Some of the evidence for that comes from broad population-based correlation studies with good epidemiological data suggesting that active people are less depressed than inactive people. They also found that people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program. It was concluded that exercise was generally comparable to antidepressants for patients with major depressive disorder. Even at the one-year follow up, they found that subjects who participated in regular exercise had lower depression scores than did their less active counterparts, suggesting that exercise may also be important in preventing relapse. 


FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT

Researchers have also explored exercise a a tool for prevention and treatment of anxiety. When we're spooked or threatened, our nervous systems jump into action, setting off a cascade of reactions such as sweating, dizziness, and a racing heart. People with heightened sensitivity to anxiety respond to those sensations with fear. They're also more likely to develop panic disorder down the road. Studies suggest that regular workouts might help people prone to anxiety become less likely to panic when they experience those fight-or-flight sensations. After all, the body produces many of the same physical reactions like heavy perspiration and increased heart rate in response to exercise. It haws been shown that exercise may ward off panic attacks and may be especially important for people at risk of developing anxiety disorder.  One study found that vigorous exercise combined with cognitive behavioral therapy may even help women quit smoking. 


BUFFERING THE BRAIN
​Some researchers suspect exercise alleviates chronic depression by increasing serotonin (the neurotransmitter targeted by antidepressants) or brain-derived neurotrophic factor (which supports the growth of neurons). Another theory suggests exercise helps by normalizing sleep, which is known to have protective effects on the brain. There are psychological explanations, too. Exercise may boost a depressed person's outlook by helping him return to meaningful activity and providing a sense of accomplishment. Then there's the fact that a person's responsiveness to stress is moderated by activity. It has been suggested that exercise may be a way of biologically toughening up the brain so stress has less of a central impact. It's likely that multiple factors are at play, but exercise and mental enrichment appear to act as buffers on how the will respond to future stressors.  ​​

GETTING THE PAYOFF
If exercise makes us feel so good, why is it so hard to do it? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008 (the most recent year for which data are available), some 25 percent of the U.S. population reported zero leisure-time physical activity. Starting out too hard in a new exercise program may be one of the reasons people disdain physical activity. When people exercise above their respiratory threshold, that is, above the point when it gets hard to talk, they postpone exercise's immediate mood boost by about 30 minutes. For novices, that delay could turn them off of the treadmill for good. Given that, it is recommended that those new to exercise start slowly, with a moderate exercise plan. Keep in mind that it takes months before any physical results of your hard work in the gym will be apparent. Focusing on the outcomes of fitness is a recipe for failure. The exercise mood boost, on the other hand, offers near-instant gratification. You are encouraged to tune into your mental state after exercise, especially when you're feeling down. Many people skip the workout at the very time it has the greatest payoff, which prevents them from noticing just how much better they feel when they exercise. Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. It may take a longer course of exercise to alleviate mood disorders such as anxiety or depression, but the immediate effects are tangible (APA/Weir, 2011).


EXERCISE TIPS
To stay healthy, adults should do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity. If you haven't exercised for a while, gradually introduce physical activity into your daily routine. Even a 15-minute walk can help you clear your mind and relax. Any exercise is better than none. Take part in a team sport, attend classes at a sports center, or just be more active in your daily routine by walking or cycling instead of travelling by car. Find an activity you can do regularly. If you haven't exercised for a long time or are concerned about the effects of exercise on your health, discuss this with your doctor and together you can decide what type of activity would best suit you.  


To stay healthy, adults aged 19-64 should try to be active daily and should do:

  • At least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and  muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups ( legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).  

OR

  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). 

OR

  • An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week (for example 2 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking), and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).  


A rule of thumb is that 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity. One way to do your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on 5 days a week. All adults should also break up long periods of sitting with light activity. Find out why sitting is bad for your health.

Examples of activities that require moderate effort for most people include:

  • walking fast
  • water aerobics
  • riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
  • doubles tennis
  • pushing a lawn mower
  • hiking
  • skateboarding
  • rollerblading
  • volleyball
  • basketball 


Moderate-intensity activity will raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you're working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk, but you can't sing the words to a song.


Examples of activities that require vigorous effort for most people include:

  • jogging or running
  • swimming fast
  • riding a bike fast or on hills
  • singles tennis
  • football
  • rugby
  • skipping rope
  • hockey
  • aerobics
  • gymnastics
  • martial arts 


Vigorous-intensity activity means you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. In general, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity. For a moderate to vigorous intensity workout, try Couch to 5K, a nine-week running plan for beginners.


Examples of muscle-strengthening activities for most people include:

  • lifting weights
  • working with resistance bands
  • doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance, such as push-ups and sit-ups
  • heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling
  • yoga


Try Strength and Flex, a five-week exercise plan for beginners to improve your strength and flexibility. You can do activities that strengthen your muscles on the same day or on different days as your aerobic activity, whatever's best for you. However, muscle-strengthening activities don't count towards your aerobic activity total, so you'll need to do them in addition to your aerobic activity. Some vigorous-intensity activities may provide 75 minutes of aerobic activity and sufficient muscle-strengthening activity. Examples include circuit training and sports such as football or rugby.

Muscle strength is necessary for daily activities, to build and maintain strong bones, to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure and to help maintain a healthy weight. Muscle-strengthening exercises are counted in repetitions and sets. A repetition is 1 complete movement of an activity, like lifting a weight or doing a sit-up. A set is a group of repetitions. For each activity, try to do 8 to 12 repetitions in each set. Try to do at least 1 set of each muscle-strengthening activity. You'll get even more benefits if you do 2 or 3 sets. To get health benefits from muscle-strengthening activities, you should do them to the point where you struggle to complete another repetition (NHS, 2014).

​​EXERCISE 

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