Why Exercise is Important for Mental Health

Why Exercise is Important for Mental Health by Mateja Petje #TheWellnessUniverse #WUVIP #ExerciseIsImportant

I must admit, I’ve never been the typical “gym rat.”

I grew up in the mountains of Slovenia where there were plenty of hiking opportunities and I’ve always loved the outdoors. Even when I was in college, I still found time on weekends to go hiking with my friends. It was fun, helped me to stay fit, and I also enjoyed the company of my friends. In addition to hiking, dancing has also been my passion. Initially, that meant going to clubs; it was really not until I turned 26 and broke up with my ex that I found solace in dancing while healing a broken heart after he cheated with one of my childhood friends. My dysfunctional family, hurt related to childhood and adolescent abuse, as well as a broken heart, led me to move to the US in October of 1997 where I joined now my ex-husband, an American.

I never truly understood the importance of exercise until years later.

One of my boyfriends who was an athlete and a runner encouraged me to join the gym. I didn’t enjoy going to clubs anymore, nor did I enjoy listening to hip-hop, dance, or techno. I took some belly dancing classes and danced at drumming circles.

My healing journey took me to work with traditional psychotherapists, coaches, healers, and psychics. I was on-and-off medication for clinical depression and anxiety for the last 20 years. I had bad side effects such as weight gain, loss of libido, gastrointestinal issues, and even suicidal thoughts when life pressure and stress got to me. I kept researching alternative and holistic approaches to healing from abuse, trauma, chronic anxiety, and depression. I learned about Buddhism and Hinduism and started meditating, which I have been doing for 20 years now. Still, I have not been able to find lasting solutions to stay off medication for any extended periods of time. Stress didn’t help as I had worked at many toxic workplaces while building my private counseling and coaching practice.

Finally, a few years ago I learned about functional medicine.

I started to understand the connection between my mental health and nutrition, as well as my gastrointestinal issues and lack of exercise due to working long hours. I adopted a healthier, low carb diet, and not only did I lose over 15 lbs., I was able to get off medication and started taking B12 and CQ10 supplement. I also stopped binge-watching Netflix and avoided drama and violence. Functional medicine, as opposed to traditional Western medicine, is more concerned with root causes, not symptom reduction, quick fixes, and taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.

According to functional medicine, the key steps to health include:

  1. Proper nutrition (rich in healthy fats, veggies, protein, nuts, seeds, and fruit)
  2. Exercise (daily as much as possible)
  3. Adequate sleep (minimum 7-8 hrs.)
  4. Nurturing relationships and socializing
  5. Stress management and spiritual practices

According to James M Greenblatt, MD, in his book Breakthrough Depression Solution, exercise is important and plays a key role in fighting depression.

Several studies have proven the efficacy of exercise in significantly decreasing depression symptoms. For example, in a study conducted in 2013, researchers assigned 48, alcohol-dependent, inactive patients to a twelve-week, moderate exercise program. The other group of participants was simply told to exercise. The participants reported far less drinking as compared to those who had been simply told to exercise. Similarly, in another study conducted by a Columbia University of Epidemiology survey, over 60% of participants who exercised were much less likely to suffer a major depression (p. 152).

According to Dr. Greenblatt, exercise has several benefits in fighting depression (p. 154):

  1. Reverses Harmful Effects of Stress
  2. Lifts Depression
  3. Improves Learning
  4. Builds Self-esteem and Improves Body Image
  5. Leaves You Feeling Euphoric or Joyful

He also recommends taking supplements such as B12 and Carnitine, as many clients have very low energy and lack the motivation to exercise.

The best type of exercise is probably interval training, as it helps to get the heart rate up quickly. However, any type of exercise can help including walking, yoga, tai chi, strength training, biking, swimming, or dancing.

It’s important that you set realistic goals and start slowly.

For example, 15 minutes three times a week gradually increasing your exercise time. Do what you love and don’t force yourself to go to the gym if it’s not your cup of tea.

Have fun!

– Mateja

Ready to get started but not sure how? Call for a complimentary consultation today at 561-299-1028 or visit me on my website. 



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