I’ve had the privilege of lecturing on the benefits of exercise and mental health twice in the past year and I thought I’d share some of the information with all of you. Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety have been something that was swept under the rug for the longest time in our society.
It’s shocking that about 25% of the Canadian population will have had a mental illness at one point in time during their lives. Mental illness affects people off all economic levels either leading towards loss of relationships, work, and quality of life.
For the longest time, western society has been heavily concentrated on the use of drugs alone but we are sitting at a change in attitude towards treating the whole self and looking at other environmental cues.
Research over the past 20 years has shown that a significant number of people who suffer from mental illnesses are less active and eat less healthy than most. So more recently there has been a new body of research emerging on the effects of exercise and proper nutrition on mental illness and the great news is that it makes a significant difference to integrate exercise!
Here are four of the main reasons why:
1) Mastery of New Skills
As we learn new skills, we move from the “I can’t” though patterns to “I can do this!”. We become more adventurous. As we master these new skills we also gain a lot of positive re-enforcement so that ensures that we keep with the goals.
2) Exercise Increases
Self-Esteem: our quality of life increases as we start to exercise so the way we feel about ourselves improves too!
Cognitive Function: we are more aware of ourselves and how we interact in the environment, and with others.
3) Exercise Decreases
Social Withdrawal: get out, get fit! most of the time we venture out to a gym or a personal trainer or go outside to walk. We see more people and have a chance to interact with others more frequently than in our normal routine.
Weight Gain: both from sedentary behaviour and also from the side effects of some drugs treating the various illnesses.
Ok this is the nerdy part. This is the principle of giving low doses of physical harm in order to increase antioxidant production and DNA repair. So that pain you feel after a workout actually has ton’s of benefits! Hormesis has been found to decrease the incidence of oxidated stress related diseases like: heart attacks, atherosclerosis, Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. It has also been found to assist in improving the immune system.
So all these positive reasons to start exercising not only to stay healthy or loose weight but to improve your mood! So how do we get started? Here’s some tips!
Throw the Canada Health Guidelines Out the Window!
30-45 minutes of exercise a day at a heart rate of 75% of your heart rate max… really??? going from nothing to this amount will cause anyone to loose their drive! Let’s try 5-10 minutes 3 times a week for the first two months. Make it a habit then we set another goal for increased time and frequency.
I’ve talked about Mindful Exercise before and we need to apply these principles to the 5 – 10 minutes of exercise first. As for the intensity: let’s go for an intensity rating of 7/10. 1 being, you just got out of bed and you’re brushing your teeth; 10 being you’re sitting on the floor, the room is spinning and your life is flashing before your eyes. 7/10 is a moderate intensity where you are barely able to talk while you are exercising.
Type of Exercise
Functional Training is best! There’s a lot of controversy out there about which type of exercise is best, cardiovascular or weights. Why not combine both of them together? 5-10 minutes of functional training will lead towards better results for mental health and your health in general. It takes some skill to learn how to do these exercises so I’d suggest consulting a personal trainer to understand how to do these exercises properly. Also check out the article that I put out to debunk some of the misconceptions about weight training.
Create a social contract
Talk to someone about how you’re feeling, what your goals are. Remember the statistics, there’s a lot of people that are suffering from mental illnesses so you’re not the only one! Talk about the strategy above and have someone keep you accountable to those goals. Report back frequently and consistently.
The research on combining changes in lifestyle with the use of conventional medicine is showing tons of positive results! We need to learn to take control of our lifestyle and be more self aware. The last time I lectured about this topic I was standing infront of 70 doctors and nurses and they were amazed at how simple changes like these would make such a big difference in people’s lives who are suffering from mental illnesses. Think about how these incremental changes can affect your life or the life of a loved one and let’s do this together!