It is fitting that the positivity pillar of TAKING CARE OF YOUR BODY arrives just as summer is upon us. Everywhere you look, advertisements for a multitude of diets, pills, potions and lotions promise the ideal, sculpted beach body. While it is true that I am aware of a certain snugness in my summer clothing, this wellness focus is so much more than shedding a few pounds. Mind and body are inextricably connected for all of us. For someone who lives with depression and anxiety, the importance of looking after my physical health is especially important; nutrition, sleep hygiene, and exercise are critical to my overall wellbeing.
As good as I realize it is for me, I know that I am not alone in feeling less than enthusiastic when exercise comes up. I think that is because I associate exercise with the pained faces I see on various runners, weight lifters, spinners, and assorted gym junkies. While I recognize that these individuals may well be enjoying their workouts, I have not found my fulfillment in such activities.
I really had to define exercise for myself in a way that made it a positive experience rather than a “must do” in order for it to gain any traction in my life. For many years it was walking at lunch with friends; the interesting conversation that accompanied our time together often made me forget about the actual walking part. More recently, I have discovered a new kind of routine using mindfulness and walking in nature as my way of staying active. At times, I walk with my IPod and my favourite tunes, singing along when the feeling moves me (although I cannot, as my mother would say, carry a tune in a bucket, I happily belt out the lyrics like a rock star). On other occasions, I simply take in all the sights, sounds, and even smells that I encounter along the way. Yes, I actually do stop and smell the roses a times, as well as the lilacs, lily-of-the-valley, and a daisy or two. I listen to the songs of birds and of playing children, the swish of the wind in the trees, and feel the sun on my arms or the rain on my hair. Once again, I lose myself in the moments that together make up my exercise practice.
The benefits of exercise are well researched: better physical and mental health both during and after physical activity including reduced stress and anxiety; social connection; increased lifespan. Some research even supports that physical exercise can have as much, and sometimes more, of an effect in improving depression as anti-depressant medication. Exercise is also linked to improved memory, better quality of sleep, not to mention weight loss, reduction in chronic pain, and, wait for it, improved sex drive, performance, and pleasure.
The great thing about exercise is that there are so many alternatives to choose from based upon everyone’s individual interests. Maybe you like team sports – hockey, softball, basketball, golf. Perhaps swimming is your love. You may wish to attend Zumba classes, or to participate in yoga or Tai Chi. The beauty of exercise is there is no wrong answer (okay, watching sports on television may be the exception to this rule).
What is your “go to” exercise or activity? Maybe we can connect like-minded folks through Fabulous Feats.
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