We know from research, studies, and experience over the years that exercise and our emotions are very closely connected. One study showed that running for at least 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduced the risk of major depression by 26%. Another study compared medication alone, medication with exercise, and exercise alone and found that people who consistently exercised had the most improvement in their mental health after a year compared to those who took medication alone and those who took medication and exercised.
Why is exercise so important for our emotional wellness?
- Exercise releases endorphins, which are chemicals in our brain that make us feel good. When we get into the habit of exercising, our bodies become accustomed to these endorphins and crave them. This is a good craving, and it’s a great reason to develop a regular habit and pattern of fitness.
- Exercise also promotes changes in our brains like neural growth and inflammation reduction.
One thing I’ve commonly seen and heard about exercise is that it can be used as a distraction or to “get away” from stress, and this is a point that I would like to actually caution you against and offer you an alternative.
When we use physical fitness to avoid something, whether it’s stress, relationships, work, or a task, we are sending a message to our brain that can actually increase our stress response: flight. We do not want to use physical fitness and exercise to run away, rather we want to use it to bring peace to our bodies. If we are distracted when we enter into a space of physical fitness, we so often invite injury.
This is one reason why I recommend yoga. One of the many things I love about yoga is that before getting into the movement, you are invited to really focus on the present, breathe, and release the stress of the day. With that space and intention created within yourself, you can create a physical space that invites healing and balanced strengthening.
Whether or not you practice yoga, being in a good “headspace” before working out is important and perhaps more simple than you realize. I recommend practicing a breathing exercise on your way into the gym, during the first few minutes of your walk, or before whatever fitness you’re about to engage in.
3. Release it slowly for four counts.
Do this slowly, for at least 30 seconds, and you’ll be amazed at how well your body responds! This is teaching your body and brain to calm down and be present. The breathing gives your mind the reassurance that all is well and that there is no need for the stress response to engage. We want to find balance with exercise, but we do not need to use it as an escape. Instead of viewing exercise as running away from something, we want to view it as running towards something good: moving our bodies to keep us healthy and strong in mind and body
What other pillars should be considered in our fitness goals? Click the links below to learn more!
The Structural Pillar and Fitness
The Environmental Pillar and Fitness