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Exercise Matters for Your Heart and Head!

We know and acknowledge the physical benefits of exercise, but still we may be resistant to incorporate it into our routines. However, regularly moving our bodies also provides great benefit for our mental health and enriches our overall wellbeing. Such benefits only strengthen the case that each and every person can and should integrate exercise into their lifestyle.

Have you ever seen a fitness guru exclaiming the joy of a runner’s high? It’s not an exaggeration or fabrication of their experience. In fact, a runner’s high is very much real and scientific. Although not limited to running, after a period of exercise, a person may experience a sort of euphoria. The brain, triggered by the exercise, releases chemicals which produce feelings of relaxation, calmness, and even pain relief. These chemicals are known as endorphins, which are a group of hormones secreted in the brain and nervous system that cause us to feel good and can help suppress pain. Some studies even suggest that regular exercise can help fight mild to moderate depression or anxiety. The feel good endorphins relieve tension and stress and allow time away from the heavy thoughts and responsibilities of everyday life for mindfulness. Exercise is attributed to higher energy during the day and better sleep at night. With such great benefits, it’s no wonder that those who exercise often report overall better well-being.

In connection to the physical good exercise can bring, the tone and muscle that can develop as a result of regular workouts can provide a new source of confidence. For many people, having toned muscles is a sign of health and fitness, and can help them feel more confident in their bodies. This is not to say that we shouldn’t feel confident or that a body has to be toned to be healthy. We know bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and there is no “right” way to look, but for some, working out can be a confidence builder.

People also turn to exercise to help them cope with difficult experiences. For example, Sonya Heitshusen, previously an award-winning reporter for WHO 13 here in Iowa, has said that she has to work out “almost every day, or I lose my mind,” in part because she needs to process the sometimes traumatic and difficult stories she covers as a reporter. Sonya has covered many difficult stories, such as Hurricane Katrina, plane crashes, tornadoes, and most recently, the pandemic. For her, activity is crucial to helping her remain mentally healthy. She has also said she relies on her family, coworkers, and even pets for support during stressful times, which is an important point. It is vital to keep in mind that physical activity and exercise is only one slice of the wellness pie, and it should be kept in balance with the other pieces.

Whether it’s chair yoga, a fitness class or lacing up your running shoes, finding the right way for you to be active sets you up for a healthier life.

Want to get active? Here are some things you can do to get moving:

  • Go for a family bike ride! There are lots of great bike trails here in Iowa, including the High Trestle Trail.
  • Go for a run outside, or if you have access to a gym that follows COVID safety protocols, use the track.
  • Take the dog for a walk, you’ll both benefit from the fresh air and an opportunity to stretch your legs. Pick up the pace for some extra intensity!
  • When it is safe, visit a local park with friends and play a game of touch football.
  • In the winter, opt to shovel snow instead of using a snow blower.

The list could go on even during this time of uncertainty, as there are an infinite number of ways to get active, and we encourage you to find a safe way to exercise.  In the end, though, what matters most is activity – if it gets you moving and your heart rate up, it counts! A little bit of activity can go a long way for both our physical and mental health.

It’s important to understand that exercise may not be enough for everyone. If you’re still having trouble with feelings of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns, YSS provides services and has the resources that can help. Learn more at https://www.yss.org/program/yss-family-counseling-clinic/