I love encouraging people who are toying with the idea of starting an exercise program. If you have read my blog for very long, you know that I am particularly partial to running, but that is only because it changed my life! I am writing this post to hopefully nudge you hesitant ones over the edge—the edge of indecision, that is. And for those of you who do exercise, read on. There’s a nugget or two in here for you, as well.
There are numerous reasons to exercise, both long-term and short-term. The Powerful Effects of Exercise addresses some of these. Build Your Brain By Exercising Your Body elaborates on another very specific bonus of exercise. For my purposes in this post, I want to encourage those who need the benefits of exercise the most—the depressed, lethargic, stressed, overweight, middle-aged and elderly, etc. Actually, we all need exercise; but the people I just described will probably experience its benefits faster than the average person. The catch is they are the ones that are the least inclined to get started. That’s where I come in. Let me motivate you.
Did you know that exercise is just as effective in treating mild to moderate depression as antidepressants? And even better, the effects of exercise last longer than the antidepressants (as long as the exercise continues, that is). The short answer for how exercise alleviates depression is found in that magic little chemical called the endorphin (which is responsible for the “runner’s high”). But I believe there are other factors that may contribute to the sense of well-being garnered in exercise, as well. For instance, anyone who starts exercising “because they should,” is being proactive in their own welfare. It feels good to know you’re doing something that’s good for you. Also, for those who exercise outside (running, walking, cycling, etc.), there is the added therapy of just being in “the great outdoors.” And at the right time of year and the right time of day, exercising outdoors also gives you a dose of vitamin D, which in itself is a mood enhancer (Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression).
Exercise is also known to increase energy levels. Increased energy would be a deterrent to depression, don’t you think? (Are you beginning to see a cycle here?) To cash in on the energy benefits of exercise, one has to first pay up—with energy. It’s amazing how this works. But did you realize that not only is this a scientific fact (that exercise—aka, expending energy—creates energy), but it is also a Biblical principle. “Give and it will be given…”
And if feeling good and energetic were not enough reasons to exercise, let me add one more: it improves and enhances sleep. So you get the best of both worlds—more energy during the day, and better sleep at night. Just be sure you don’t exercise close to bedtime, because the exercise can stimulate you and keep you awake.
How to exercise?
I trust that you are chomping at the bits to get started and want to know “how?” My advice would be “moderate, but challenging.” By moderate, what I am really saying is start slowly and build up. In your enthusiasm, don’t overdo; that could ruin everything and set you back, possibly even aborting the whole process. There’s no way I could “prescribe” the perfect exercise in a post of this sort because everyone is at a different fitness level. If you have not exercised for years, walking on a regular basis may be just what the doctor ordered. If you have been walking for years, maybe it’s time to pick up the pace and do some speed walking or brief intervals of jogging. That brings up the subject of “challenging.” If it’s easy and you don’t breathe hard, it’s not really exercise. Or maybe I should say it’s not the kind of exercise that promotes the endorphin high that battles against depression and stress.
Most researchers agree that the surest way to enjoy the mood-enhancing benefits of exercise is to spend 20-30 minutes at moderate-intensity no less than three times a week. Moderate intensity would be a 7 or 8 on a scale to 10. Your heart should be pumping and you should be breathing hard (for those of you with health issues, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a serious exercise routine).
The best example I can give you for “moderate, but challenging” would be my own story—which has already been written. I strongly encourage you to read Running for My Life, which is a three-part series. The link leads to Part 2 because it gives the most detail about how I slowly increased my running distance (literally starting with just a few feet!), but it would be beneficial for you to read all three parts. It demonstrates the holistic nature of life, how each part affects all the others—body, soul and spirit.
To conclude this post, I want to share with you a few pointers that I have picked up over the past couple of years or so, as I have become a full-fledged runner. These pointers are more applicable to those who may already be exercising, but for you who are just getting started, hopefully you’ll keep these tucked in the recesses of your mind for when you need them.
- Don’t run ever day. Running is very good for you, but like any intense exercise it does inflict a little pounding on the body. Therefore, it is wise to give the bod a day to recover. However, just because it’s not advisable to run every day does not mean you can’t exercise every day. When building a habit, it is best to create a slot in your day—every day—that is appointed for exercise. So on the non-running days, do some strength-building exercises or yoga or biking, etc. The main thing is to develop within your daily rhythm a time slotted for fitness.
- You can walk every day. If you are wanting to slowly build up to running, follow my method in the Running for My Life series. This would be the exception to what I just wrote. If you are only running a few feet at a time and you’re body is handling it well, it is OK to run in this fashion every day. By the time you are running at least two miles, however, you should probably continue building your distance but only run every other day.
- Become an expert about your exercise or sport of choice. There is much to know about any activity. If you are going to do it, why not do it to the best of your ability. Don’t dabble; commit! I cover this topic at length in Creating Inspiration to Accomplish Your Goals.
Are you already consistent in exercise? If so, I’d like to hear what kind of exercise you are involved in? Please leave me a comment. It helps me to know what my readers are up to.