Anyone who knows me knows that I would need a hand written gilded invitation to go for a run. It’s so difficult for me to get up and do cardio. I always say that I could walk The Ring to Mordor, but don’t expect me to run after the ice cream truck.
To quote Ann Perkins from Parks and Recreation:
For those of us with chronic mental health issues, the cost is a lot greater than not. Cardio is an important tool in recovery and management. I know for me personally, cardio specifically can have as big an impact on my symptoms as medication and therapy. Basically, if I don’t exercise, it’s like trying to drive a car with only three wheels attached. It might start and try to go but it won’t get very far.
When people talk to me about their anxiety and depression I usually ask if they are exercising regularly. For some people depression and anxiety can be controlled with diet, exercise, and therapy and does not require medication. For others, like me whose symptoms can be a bit more extreme, exercise is a critical tool that needs to be added to others like therapy, medication, diet, socialization, and adequate rest.
It’s not a secret that clinical depression responds well to exercise. Studies have been done that clearly illustrate a correlation. Anxiety responds well too and according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America the following is true:
“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.” (Source)
Many of you probably already know these things. Like I said, it’s not a State Secret. Getting the motivation is a different story. Especially if you are like me and when your depression and anxiety get the best of you it is easier to take a nap than it is to take a walk.
To be honest, I have to sneak exercise into my day. I will park in a far spot and get my heart rate up walking briskly into the store. I will take my dog for a short walk around the block, “So he can stretch his legs”. Taking multiple trips up and down the stairs is helpful. Doing stretches during the commercial breaks while my family watches TV is another sneaky thing I do. I try to invite friends to do active things with me. Asking someone to go on a hike instead of go see a movie is a great alternative. Instead of sitting and chatting, going on a walk around the neighborhood is always a nice change.
Including friends in my more active plans has been an excellent way to motivate myself to move. I can always sit at home and watch a movie, but going to a trampoline park or window shopping is more fun with company!
There are apps that reward you for being active too! Charity Miles donates money to your favorite non profits (be on the look out for Rethink Trauma)! Zombies, Run!, is an app based game that can make your runs more fun and a little scary! Couch to 5K is great for people who need a solid plan to build up to running.
If you are like me and you can’t run for miles — thanks bad hip! — then you can get your heart rate up in other ways. Swimming, playing frisbee, biking, and hiking are good options. Recreation league sports like kickball or softball can be great ways to socialize and exercise, both of which are helpful aids to fight clinical depression.
Yoga, Tai Chi, and other martial arts are excellent ways to practice mindfulness and get exercise too! Yoga helps me avoid dissociative episodes, manage stress, get my heartrate up, and keep my hip healthy.
If you need a walking buddy, stop by a local animal rescue or talk to a resuce organization. See if a nearby shelter or foster family wouldn’t mind letting you take a pup along! The answer will most likely be yes.
Volunteering with after school programs is another sneaky way to get exercise! You can hang out with kids at your local YMCA or Boys and Girls Club and play basketball or other sports and do something good with your exercise time.
Before you begin any exercise program you should talk to your doctor. Speak with your prescribing physician or pharmacist about how your medications may affect your blood sugar, heartrate, and blood pressure, as these can change rapidly when exerting yourself.
When I’m at my worst, walking is my main form of exercise. I’ll even call a far away friend on the phone and won’t stop walking until our conversation is done. I try to move at least a little on days when I’ve had a day-long panic attack. Being in a tensed position for hours on end is not nice to my body. Making sure that I rehydrate and stretch my muscles prevents injury and helps me reclaim my day.
There are too many different ways for us to exercise for us to keep making excuses. It is so easy to make up reasons. I am the Queen of Excuses to Not Exercise. I may not be able to do a full hour of an aerobics class without crashing for the next two days, but I can manage twenty minutes on the elliptical without dying –even if I may dramatically tell you that I am.
For those of us with chronic mental health issues, we need to take exercise as seriously as we take medication and therapy. You wouldn’t skip a day of meds so don’t skip a day of exercise. You wouldn’t go to the therapist and say nothing so why let that treadmill just take up space in your house?
Don’t beat yourself up if you fall behind and remember to listen to your body and take it one day at a time.
Exercise doesn’t have to be serious and planned out either. It can be a walk with friends or playing tag with your little cousins. Find ways to be more active and go from there. Remember, just five minutes can begin to relieve stress!
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fitapproach/6814589739