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Pillars To Mental Health: Exercise

Look, I know this isn’t a topic you want to read about. I could waste time digging up the hundreds of articles about the benefits to exercise on mental health, the yummy endorphins, improvements to body image, but you already know about all of that. You understand the benefits. You have heard about the research. But how the hell do you fit it into your schedule?


This is the biggest problem I have with my clients. In NOVA, we run extremely busy and hectic lives. Most of us have a commute that’s equal to a part-time job. Sitting on your rear end, for upwards of three hours a day, does not help your mental health! So here are some tips to working this critical component to your mental health into your life.


1. It only takes two weeks to establish a habit. No seriously! Only TWO weeks! Keep this in mind as you start a program. “I just need to try this for two weeks and see how it goes.” Most people can do anything for a year. All I’m asking for is two weeks.


2. Pick a program that is easy. No doubt it’s been a few months/years since you last worked out. So pick a program that’s 20 to 30 minutes long and easy to accomplish. Think about yoga, swimming, biking, or walking. Or if you want more of a challenge, pick a class at the gym or an online program that’s low impact.

3. Don’t go big! Most of my clients that are willing to workout have a history of physical fitness and are crippled by their lack of fitness now. Get into a healthy mindset. One that focuses on where you are today with reassurance that you will return to your previous health in time. But first, just focus on today!


4. Find a motivator. This can be because you need it for your mental health. It could be because you have a trip coming up. Or perhaps you want to set an example for your kids. Write it down and post it in a place you will see like the kitchen or bathroom.


5. Some people prefer the atmosphere and high energy of the gym. Some people prefer the privacy of their home. There are a million options. Do some research on what works best for you and that will set you up for success. Don’t go crazy! Just pick something light. Remember, you are doing this for two weeks and the last thing you need is to get discouraged.


6. Pick a time of day and stick to it. I workout in the morning with my kids. They play, they help me, or sometimes they join in and I love that! If I give myself 30 seconds, I’ll convince myself that I don’treally want to workout, it’s not worth it, I don’t want to be in pain, it sucks! If I wake up, walk downstairs, and hit play, I don’t have time to think and the workout is over before I’ve even woken up.


7. Go shopping! Nothing motivates me like a new pair of shoes or a workout outfit. It’s not like I can wear it to work.


8. Expect to be in pain. This is just your body adjusting to the new activity. It will take two days for that pain to ease. (Seems like a lot of twos but I’m not joking!)


When people experience emotional pain, the body has a way of holding onto that pain. New research is coming out that indicates people hold trauma in their muscles. Think about a gazelle in the wild when it smells a lion in the weeds. It shivers and starts running. We experience threat and emotional pain but are expected to sit at our desks and not react. This goes against our nature and what our bodies are screaming for us to do! RUN! GET OUT! GET AWAY! As a result, people select unhealthy habits from self-injury to substance abuse to anger outbursts. Working out will correct this and provide you with a core coping strategy.


Seriously! Just two weeks.

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