Written by Jason Lewis of www.strongwell.org
If you’re going through difficult times or trying to recover from a recent life event, the last thing you’re thinking about doing is exercising. However, many studies are showing that exercise is a highly effective tool to improve mental health. This raises a lot of questions about how exercise works, and what exactly you’re supposed to do. If you’re wondering the same things, don’t worry -- Coach Cathy Barry has answers to the four most common questions about exercise and recovery.
How Does Exercise Help People Recover?
According to Harvard Medical School, regular exercise reduces the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also encourages the production of endorphins, which are natural painkillers and mood elevators. It can help stop difficult situations from bothering you as much as they did before. You will be able to stay calmer and handle things more effectively.
Exercising can also increase your energy levels, help you get better sleep, make you feel more confident, and improve cognitive function. The mental and physical benefits of exercise boost your overall health and improve your mood, while combating the crippling effects of stress, depression and anxiety.
What Types of Exercise Are Best?
For overall health, do a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training. Aerobic activity is any form of exercise that speeds up your heart rate and makes you breathe more heavily, but you should still be able to maintain a conversation. You don’t need expensive gym memberships to reach this level of aerobic exercise as Vox points out; everyday activities such as walking, cleaning the house, and gardening all count.
Strength training involves using resistance through weight training, weight machines or resistance bands. You can even do body-weight exercises including chin ups, squats and pushups. While aerobic training is the best exercise for your heart, strength training is good for the muscles and joints.
How Much Exercise Should I Do?
For overall health benefits, do 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and two sessions of strength training each week. However, you should start out by doing less than this and build up to that level over a few weeks, so you don’t end up feeling too overwhelmed. If you’re managing those 150 minutes a week without any problems, you can increase the intensity a bit. Just pay attention to how your body feels and dial the intensity back if you feel sore or overly fatigued.
Keeping track of how much you’re exercising is easier than ever thanks to devices like smart watches, fitness trackers, and smartphones. Sleek armbands like the LifeActiv Armband allows you to attach your smartphone with a click, keeping it in place for easy viewing even during strenuous activity while checking your GPS during a run, tracking your progress with a fitness app, or swapping out playlists between reps.
If you’re having a difficult time figuring out how to put together an exercise plan that works for you, book a session with Coach Cathy Barry. She will make sure you find a workout that works for both your body and mind.
Does It Also Matter What I Eat?
Yes, make sure you complement your exercise routine with a healthy and nutritious diet. Certain nutritious foods will make your exercises more effective and will help fuel you so you don’t get too tired before you can reap the benefits of exercising.
Before you start physical activity, you should hydrate and eat foods like brown rice, low-fat yogurt, and fruits and vegetables. Make sure to stay hydrated even after you start moving, which means you should have water handy at all times. If your exercise is over an hour long, you should take a small break and eat something like a banana or some raisins (both are high in potassium and prevent cramping). Afterwards, consume protein to rebuild your muscles and carbohydrates to regain energy.
Not only will good food fuel your exercise, but eating healthy will improve your mental health, too. Caffeine, alcohol and sugar can all make you more anxious and contribute to depression, while healthy fresh foods can improve your mood.
Most therapists now consider exercise to be medicinal because of the many benefits it brings to our physical and mental health. However, while exercising will help you deal with challenges, it won’t fix the hard things in your life like the loss of a loved one or a divorce. You’ll still need to take other steps to maintain your mental health. Exercise is like your trump card, working in tandem with your other strategies. Maybe you can start by taking a walk right now.
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