Movement is Medicine
As we find ourselves moving into the colder months and inching closer to the holidays, it’s becoming increasingly important to find ways to move the body daily. Movement of any kind can greatly reduce the stress and excess calorie consumption that is commonplace in November and December here in the U.S. Exercise has been scientifically proven to benefit a wide range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and most of all, stress.
According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the leading causes of death which include heart disease, cancer, lung issues, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. Stress increases the levels of cortisol in the body, our natural “fight or flight” hormonal response that has kept human beings alive since the beginning of time. This rise in cortisol levels can have damaging effects to the body if not regulated and controlled through caring for the body and mind. The adrenals work overtime to keep pumping out cortisol to the body in response to constant stress and stressors. Normally the body regulates itself once the stress-inducing situation is over and returns to producing insulin—cortisol hormone levels lower and the body is then able to relax and function as it should. When we work ourselves into a stressed state and stay in this heightened place every day, the adrenals keep pumping cortisol out into the body which then leads to a constant stressed state. It as if the body is always ready to make big leaps and feats of survival as seen dramatized in movies and TV shows. Imagine this going on internally and never shutting off. This has detrimental health effects such as weight gain, a suppressed immune system, heart disease and digestive issues among others.
Exercise and movement play a key role. For starters, when it comes to the hormonal responses to stress, exercise reduces the levels of cortisol the body is producing and increases the release of the feel-good chemicals in the brain known as endorphins. Endorphins are the coveted “runner’s high” that puts one in a euphoric and relaxed state which, in turn, reduces the levels of stress within the body immediately and works to help alleviate the fight or flight response that stress induces. From a mental and emotional standpoint, movement is linked to feelings of accomplishment, confidence and mood elevation. Movement of any kind will help with your self-image, as it helps to keep the body healthy and the waistline trim. Movement can make one feel extremely confident, powerful and in control. Regular exercise can also help in changing up the energy of the stressful situation by creating a distraction from it. When we can step out of the stress and create a bit of solitude, it improves mental well-being. On the flip side, exercise can also help stimulate social interactions which are important in helping one to feel connected and supported.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise, five days per week. To help decrease stress and the anxiety that is produced by stress, it’s beneficial to find some movement daily for at least 15 to 20 minutes. This doesn’t even have to look like traditional exercise such as weightlifting, aerobics, swimming, etc. It can be simply taking a brisk walk in nature, gardening, dancing to favorite music, vigorous housework, stair climbing, going for a bike ride, playing games with children or practicing yoga. Some movement in any form is better than no movement at all. Aerobic-style exercise is the movement that will produce the feel-good endorphins. Try to aim for at least three days a week of something that is heart-rate elevating such as jogging, cycling, stair climbing, brisk walking, dancing, weight training or swimming.
The most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with stress and any other mental condition related to it is to find things that bring the most enjoyment. People sometimes are looking for a tough and rigorous workout, but it’s not exactly something that they enjoy; therefore, it’s not a long- lasting solution to stress. The idea is to keep movement practices as simple as possible to achieve the goal of “zoning out”, and distracting the mind from what is causing the stress in the first place. Making movement goals too complicated or putting too much pressure on oneself to perform only adds stress. Find something to look forward to doing as soon as the day begins to give each day a positive tone. Merging with a movement practice this way is the road to a healthy mind and body.
Source: Cheryl Natusch is a certified fitness trainer and owner of Laughing Hearts Yoga & Movement at 912 W. Kings Hwy., Haddon Heights, N.J. It offers many forms of movement that appeal to every body type and preference. For more information including schedule of classes to register for, visit LaughingHeartsYoga.com.