Despite the fact that more than 86% of Americans believe exercising for fitness improves a person’s odds of a long and healthy life by “a lot,” only 28% report they actually get as much physical exercise as they should. Some people can’t start; some start and stop; and some can’t stop.
Adding to the exercise benefits for improving physical health, the most recent publication of the Monitor of the American Psychological Association underscores the mounting evidence of exercise benefits on mental health. So clear is the impact of exercise on the body-mind connection that it raises the question of how psychologists might use it as part of their treatment arsenal or at the very least motivate their patients to exercise.
As closer look at some of the findings may provide the tipping point for starting, stopping and moderating exercise in a way that benefits physical and mental health.
Long Term Depression and Relapse Prevention
A take home point for those who might want to start exercising is the value of “supervised exercise” to provide motivation, support, companionship and feedback.
This could take the form of a personal trainer, a group or a buddy exercise experience.
Consistently people report they would not have exercised had there not been a trainer waiting or a friend on the way.
In this day of social media, a“ home-based exercise” can be enhanced by text, and email reminders or special I-phone apps that bring the reminder and the workout steps or motivation to you.
The Diabetes-Depression Loop
As discussed in the blog, “Exercise for Depression: Strategies to Make it Possible,” some applications for beginning and continuing exercise might include:
Panic and Anxiety
Even at the start of exercising, long before the weight drops or the muscles pop, the very accomplishment of walking 3 blocks instead of one, of walking stairs without being out of breadth, of less ankle swelling etc. offers success for an achievable goal that in turn reduces the sense of helplessness and bodily fears.
Findings Suggest that Exercise Buffers the Brain From Stress
Theories explaining this impact from exercise include the impact of released neurochemicals as endorphins and and serotonin; normalizing sleep which affects body rhythms and the nervous system functioning; and exercise as a meaningful activity that buffers stress by enhancing a sense of accomplishment.
Attention Fatigue (ADHD)
A study intending to examine if walking in a natural winter setting would relieve attention fatigue in adults, found based on pre and post memory scales, mood profiles and self reports that 20 minutes of walking in any outdoor setting, be it a wooded trail, neighborhood or parking lot, provided a significant benefit for short-term memory, tension reduction, depression, anger and fatigue.
Unable to Stop – Exercise Addiction
Given that 7 out of ten American Adults don’t exercise regularly despite the proven health benefits, a group that is often overlooked includes those who have stopped physically or mentally benefiting from exercise. They are the obligatory exercisers for whom exercise has become an addiction.
One man who came to see me with considerable anxiety and despair because his second marriage was ending, mentioned in passing that he awakened every morning at 4:30AM to go to the gym and exercise for 90 minutes. This effort he made to stay in shape also required that he eat certain foods different from what the family was eating, that he be in bed sleeping by 9PM and expand his workouts on the weekends. The cost was an eroded relationship with his wife, very limited family time with his children and considerable fatigue. What was dramatic was that he considered his exercise routine as a necessity for reducing stress in his life – he had never factored this into his problems.
David Linden in his 2011 book, The Compass of Pleasure considers that exercise can activate the pleasure circuit and like food, nicotine or gambling become a substrate for addiction. He notes that exercise addicts display all of the hallmarks of substance addicts: tolerance, craving, withdrawal and the need to exercise “ just to feel normal.”
Exercise addiction is a chronic loss of perspective of the role of exercise in a full life.
Do You Have An Exercise Addiction?
Here are Some Warning Signs:
Reflective of the way in which exercise addiction reverses the physical and mental health benefits of exercise, Jane E. Brody in her blog “ Fit is One Thing: Obsessive Exercise is Another,” reports that the obligatory exercisers often suffer anxiety, apathy, chronic fatigue, decreased appetite, depression, hostility, mental exhaustion, mood changes, changes in values and beliefs, diminished self-image, impaired concentration, emotional isolation, sore muscles and disturbed sleep.
Despite our belief in its benefits- Starting or Moderating Exercise is not easy.
Most of us will do things that are not easy for those we love.
Take the first step – this one’s for you!
Mature man photo available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 16 Jun 2012