Of course, it is not exactly news that exercise has serious benefits for our mental health. Physical activity affects the structure of our brain and has been shown to help treat and prevent both depression and anxiety disorders, and researchers now believe it can benefit even those with severe psychotic disorders. It has also been shown to improve our focus and mood (just ask my family members), among many other mental benefits.
But there are times when exercise can also fail and fuel trends that are not so helpful. For some people, exercise can become another stressor in our lives, add to the must-dos list and become one more thing we feel guilty about. Or we become obsessed and sometimes we take it too far. For others, high-intensity workouts can cause feelings of stress.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke with Pooja Lakshmin, MD, one member of the Peloton Health and Wellness Advisory Board, specializing in women’s health and perinatal psychiatry. He shared some suggestions on how we can make sure our workouts help — do not harm — our mental health.
1. Make exercise a regular habit
Although the mental benefit of exercise comes in part from an increase in endorphins, Dr. Lakshmin explains that regular exercise also creates a positive feedback loop. “It has less to do with the type of activity you do and more to be something that is a regular habit,” he says. “Whether it’s cardio, weight training or yoga, we think more about how often you engage in an activity.
This is because consistency will give you a sense of dominance, as well as control and commitment over how you spend your time, he says. Making exercise a part of your daily routine gives you the satisfaction that you have in mind a task and you have completed it.
2. Do not wait to hit the motivator
“Often “The moments when you do not want to exercise are the moments that may be most helpful,” says Dr. Lakshmin. But when you’re not in the mood to exercise, it can be tempting to postpone it. called behavioral activation. “Basically, it means that when you feel bad, it’s really hard to motivate yourself to do something you know will make you feel good.”
Instead of waiting for the motivation to hit, however, the key is to try to force yourself to do at least some exercise. As psychologists want to put it, mood follows action. Appearing, even when you do not want to, will change how you feel.
If a long workout seems like too much to deal with, just get your body moving for a few minutes:
3. Focus on the values, not the goals
While setting fitness goals can inspire us to push ourselves to new heights, they can also fail. “When you become too rigid about ‘I have to work out for 60 minutes every day and if I don’t, then I’m failing,'” says Dr. Lakshmin.
The antidote? Focusing on the “why”. Whether you want to stay healthy enough to have the energy to play with your grandchildren, cultivate a hobby you love, or connect with your community, remind yourself of what is most important to you. This way, you will be able to have the bigger picture in mind as you incorporate exercise into the ebbs and flows of life. “Clarifying why you are physically fit can protect you from becoming rigid or obsessive,” says Dr. Lakshmin.
4. Lean on your workouts when you are stressed
Exercise can be an extra helpful mechanism in transition periods or really in any stressful period. “There is the biochemical element of endorphins that is released, but also that brings you back to a sense of action, that you are doing something that you know is in line with your values, that you can dominate,” says Dr. Lakshmin. . “It gives you a sense of control when you may feel that your external environment is out of control.”
Try this yoga flow that is literally designed to destroy the body:
5. Recognize when your problems are more than exercise can solve
Although good sweat can make us feel better, it is not a panacea for all our problems. If you find that stress or depression is reaching a clinical level – which means you have problems in your daily life, whether at work or at home – this is a sign that you need to get professional help, says Dr. Lakshmin.
Also consult a therapist if you notice a pattern of obsession that dominates your approach to exercise. “If something like IDD happens, there are specific therapies based on evidence, such as exposure therapy, which in this case would work on exposure so you do not exercise,” he says.
Emphasize rest and recovery as much as activity
Yes, having a regular exercise routine can work wonders for both your mental and physical health. But remind yourself that rest is an equally important skill to cultivate. “Our culture is a culture that tends to emphasize and delight productivity and success,” says Dr. Lakshmin. Hierarchy of rest is not natural for most of us, but this negligence can lead to exhaustion and high levels of stress. “It’s not our fault we did not learn to do this,” says Dr. Lakshmin, “but it is our responsibility to teach ourselves.”
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