Why is it so hard?
For the most part we all know exercise is beneficial for us, both physically and mentally, so why is it so hard to motivate to exercise? There are a number of reasons why people avoid working out, even when we know we will feel so much better after the fact.
What's getting in your way? What would help to motivate you to exercise consistently? One of the common reasons people find it hard to exercise regularly is because many times people go out too hard and try to do something that they may not be physically capable of yet which can be discouraging and may turn people off from exercise for good. If you're new to exercise, starting at Cross Fit is probably not your best bet, try going for a 30 minute walk instead. The benefits will be the same and you won't set yourself up for failure by engaging in exercise that is too much or too hard for you. David Goggins, author of Can't Hurt Me: Master your Mind and Defy the Odds, recently said in an Instagram post that we are too often looking for the "right" form of exercise or waiting until we have the perfect trainer lined up, when in reality we could be making changes right now while we wait for the "right" thing to come along. So if your ultimate goal is to be fit enough to work out at a Cross Fit gym, that's great and you shouldn't give up on that goal, but in the meantime get outside and go for a walk!
Another factor that sometimes deters people from exercising is that they don't feel up for it, they lack the motivation, their mood is down and that makes it hard to get up off the couch and exercise. The irony of this, however, is that when you're feeling down and unmotivated, this is the most important time to get up and get moving! Let me tell you about some of the mental effects of exercise.
How can exercise improve my mental health?
The Lancet Psychiatry Journal published an article in 2018 in which 1.2 million people were studied and the findings stated that people who exercise reported having 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health than those who did not exercise. I'll spare you all the research jargon to tell you how they got to these numbers, but that's ALOT of people they studied and it's hard to argue with data of a sample that size. The long story short, exercise improves your mood!
Exercise can have a positive impact on many areas of ones mental health functioning including depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Additionally, exercise relieves stress, improves memory, improves sleep and boots mood!
Research shows exercise can help alleviate long term depression. A clinical psychologist at Duke University, James Blumenthal, PhD, published a study in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2007 which stated exercise is generally comparable to antidepressants for people with Major Depressive Disorder. The authors of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being state that regular workouts help people with anxiety because they are less likely to panic when they experience fight or flight because their body is used to the sensations related to panic, such as heavy perspiration and increased heart rate.
Exercise also causes people to have a more positive outlook and helps people to engage in a meaningful activity. Additionally, it serves as a good distraction and is a very good coping skill.
Exercise also promotes change in the brain including neural growth, reduced inflammation, as well as releasing endorphins which are powerful chemicals in the brain. Some research says exercise improves depression because it increases serotonin which is also targeted by antidepressants. Other researchers say exercise helps to normalize sleep, which has protective effects on the brain.
How to start?
- Start small! Remember, you don't need to start with a group class if that's uncomfortable for you, start with something that works for you so you can be successful.
- Find your prime time. Are you likely to make excuses all day long about why not to go to the gym after work? If that's the case, maybe you need to get up earlier and work out before work. It's not fun, but then it's done and you will feel so much better it's behind you. Are you more energized in the afternoon or evening? Perhaps that's the best time for you to schedule your work out.
- Set goals and reward yourself. Although the idea of feeling physically and mentally better should be enough of a reward, realistically it may not be so you may need to figure out another reward that is actually motivating to you. Maybe you want a new workout outfit, this is something you can reward yourself with when you achieve your goals. Speaking of goals, make sure they are realistic and achievable. If you set a goal for yourself to run two miles everyday, but you've never run a day in your life, you're just setting yourself up for failure. Make sure the goals you set for yourself work for you and only you. My workout goals and your workout goals are different, so you need to figure out what works for you!
- Accountability. Hard to drag yourself outside for a walk or to the gym? Find someone who has similar goals to you and you two can exercise together. If you're lacking the motivation to get out, that person can motivate you and vice versa.
- More is not better. Research shows that exercising 45 minutes 3-5 times per week has the most benefits, so keep that in mind when you're feeling guilty that you didn't work out all 7 days or that you didn't work out for an hour. Most importantly remember, something is better than nothing! So even if you go out for a 20 minute walk twice this week and last week you didn't walk at all, you're making progress and that's the most important thing!
What will you do?
After reading all about the benefits of exercise on your mental health has it inspired you to get out and get moving? If you're not experiencing significant mental health issues you may think this doesn't apply to you, but I'll bet we could all use to improve our mood somewhat!
I've been fairly consistent with exercise over the past year, but not as consistent as I would like, so here are my goals:
- Attend two group fitness classes per week (60 minutes)
- Engage in some sort of cardio one time per week, either a group fitness class or just walking or jogging outside (30-45 minutes)
- I have an accountability partner who I'm willing to show up for and she does the same for me
- My long term goal is to run another half marathon within the next year. I'd like to find one in another state which could be a travel destination, that will be my reward!
There, I said it, on the internet. These are my exercise goals, putting it out there will hold me accountable!
What are you going to do to improve your mood with exercise?
If you are interested in reading the complete research I cited above, here is the information to retrieve the full articles. Happy reading!
Blumenthal, J.A., Babyak, M.A., Dorawisamy, P.M., Watkins, L., Hoffman, B.M., Barbour, K.A., Herman, S., Craighead, W.E., Brosse, A.L., Waugh, R., Hinderliter, A., Sherwood, A. (2007). Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder. Psychosomatic Medicine, 69 (7), 587-596.
Chekroud, S.R., Gueorguieva, R., Zheutlin, A.B., Paulus, M., Krumholz, H.M., Krystal, J.H., Chekroud, A.M. (2018). Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1.2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: A cross sectional study. The Lancet Psychiatry, 5, 739-746.