My clients ask me all the time about exercise programs. As a Personal Trainer and Licensed Psychotherapist, I tend to meld both backgrounds into my transformational work with my clients incorporating the importance of moving your body, practicing mindfulness and also looking to implement positive change in dealing with struggles that individuals face with anxiety, depression, loss, or trauma. Exercise is amazing for many aspects of well-being that go far beyond physical health and include re-wiring the brain.
Scientific studies are finally beginning to catch up with my soapbox preaching around the importance of exercising to overcome mental health issues. Now you can pull up your favorite search engine and type in “the benefits of exercise for mental health” (I tried Google) and get over 78 million responses. I believe that every Doctor and Psychiatrist should have a section for “exercise prescription” on the medication pads. I don’t think medication should be prescribed without a discussion on the benefits of exercise to go along with your chemical cocktail of symptom relief. If you are going to take pills to feel better (and often that is absolutely necessary) it is equally important to get that body of yours moving.
So what makes it so hard for all of us to grab our bodies and begin an exercise program when we know it is SO good for us? In my experience with clients it boils down to a feeling of overwhelm. There are so many individuals who are mass marketing programs that guarantee you results in “3 Months”, “30 Days”, “14 Days”, or even (believe it or not) “The 3 Minute Exercise Solution” that it is impossible to know where to start. To add even more confusion to the mix is the conversation around what you “should” be doing as a part of a complete exercise program such as the baseline debate over which is better: cardiovascular exercise “cardio” or strength training. In addition, once you even whittle down past these two main categories, there are literally hundreds of different exercise options available.
As a prospective new exerciser begins to look into how to work out, what exercises to do, or how to plan a program – worries begin to arise. The opposite of positive thinking occurs, and instead the only increase that comes up for someone is a spike in his or her stress levels. I have heard these concerns. Everything from: “I don’t want to bulk up”, “I am too old”, “I am going to get hurt”, “I’m too overweight to do that”, etc. pops into consciousness as attempts to find the best possible excuse to forget getting started on a new program in the first place arise, and going to the pantry to get a snack begins to sound like a much better idea instead.
I know it’s intimidating because I hear it from clients all of the time. That’s why I want to share the number one secret that I have learned to getting started on any exercise program. The best thing you can do to assure that you are going to get started, and more importantly, stick with an exercise program is to find something you enjoy doing. This cannot be overstated and does not need to be more complicated. If you find something you enjoy doing, you will stick with it. If you like to walk in the evenings with your dog, go out for a walk starting for 20 minutes and work your way up to 30. Don’t like dogs? Grab a bike, go for a swim, try a class, take a hike, or find a friend to join you. Hire a Personal Trainer to explore ideas with you if you want. But try something. If you don’t know what you like, give yourself permission to try a lot of different things. There is no perfect science to finding out your likes and dislikes other than having the courage to give it a shot.
I promise you that if you are able to find something you enjoy you can begin to create a new healthier habit. This takes 6-8 weeks to do, so you may find yourself needing to self motivate until the habit gets established, but this will become routine, and your body will start to look forward to whatever activity you begin to practice. Yes, there are ways to change the way your muscle structure looks through exercise, or lose weight, or even improve upon you metabolism; however, this is not necessary to focus on, when learning how to get your body moving. What is important for improved health is as simple as it is stated below in the American Heart Association Recommendations.
For Overall Cardiovascular Health:
-At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes.
-At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes
(You can visit http://www.heart.org for more information on this)
If you enjoy walking your dog in the evening and want to make this your exercise routine, you can make sure you are going at a moderate-intensity if you can still talk but have increased your breathing rate. Maybe you need to take Fido up the hill for a stroll to accomplish this, but you can make this the only exercise routine you need if your exercise plan is to walk according to the guidelines above.
It can be overwhelming to listen to all the fitness programs available, and at times having access to so much information can lead us to shut down instead of take charge. Fitness professionals are master marketing moguls and typically have killer bodies to boot. From Beach Body, to Jillian Michael’s Fat Shredder, to P90X; the options for exercise promises and benefits are numerous, but rest assured that for you to improve your mental health, relieve depression, and feel happier and healthier, you just need to find something enjoyable to you.
So get out there and ride a bike, join the Y, rescue a pet that needs to be walked, or take a class. Check in with yourself after a few days and see if you can feel the difference in your mood, you self-esteem, and sense of well-being. Becoming mindful of this feeling of accomplishment and improved health will keep you going. Good Luck On Your New Plan!
Stacey Neil is a Certified Personal Trainer and Licensed Psychotherapist in private practice in Los Gatos, Ca. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.