Let’s talk about exercise

This post is part of the series exercise

Other posts in this series:

  1. Let’s talk about exercise (Current)
  2. The Exercise Prescription

In continuing thoughts about self care, let’s talk about exercise.

Exercise makes us live longer. Exercise makes us healthier. Exercise improves our sex lives. It improves our energy. It makes us happier. It makes us look good. It helps us sleep well. It is the elixir of the gods.

The neurobiology around exercise is amazing. It reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin; making us calmer, more focused, more able to cope. It opens serotonin, dopamine and noradrenalin channels; boosting our sense of well being and even treating depression and anxiety. As our skeletal muscles work they release Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which promotes brain growth, enhancing learning and memory.

Clearly we should all be incorporating exercise into our daily routines.

Yet exercise is one of the first things to go when we feel stressed and overwhelmed. Whilst exercise has been proven to be highly beneficial in the management of depression, the very symptoms of depression include lack of energy and motivation.

The most common reason which my patients give me not to exercise is “I do not have the time”. As with all elements of self care, looking after oneself has to be prioritised. Ultimately, exercise is as important as anything in a hectic schedule, not less so. Very few of us have the luxury of an extra half an hour a day to do with what we want. We have to make time to exercise, because it is that important.

In my practice mothers are most often the guardians of their family’s health. They ensure that the kids get immunised and that veggies get served and eaten. Moms limit screen time and get the kids to swimming lessons. So if Mom prioritises exercise for herself, she is sending a powerful message to her kids about its importance. She will also have more energy to keep up with the pace of effectively managing a busy household.

A lot of us are well aware of the benefits of exercise and are constantly starting and abandoning exercise plans. I think that this is because exercise is hard. All the benefits are delayed in their gratification.The immediate results are uncomfortable and even painful. In our modern world, we adjust things so as to be neither too hot, nor too cold. Our environments can be made into a comfortable not too hard, nor too soft. We manage our bodily imperfections with spandex and makeup. When we exercise we get hot and sweaty, sore muscles and blisters. We wobble, bounce and grimace in front of strangers. We are exposed and vulnerable, we are “out there”.

Sometimes it’s just easier to take the marshmallow.

Exercise may be the elixir of the gods. But you have to be prepared to earn it.

Further reading:

  • Medscape – Jun 20, 2016.The Data–and Lack of Data–on Exercise and Mental Health
  • Book: Exercise and Mental Health: Neurobiological mechanisms by H. Budde and M. Wegner

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