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March Movement

It's unlikely that you'll find a psychologist or other mental health professional that doesn’t think exercise is a critical part of mental health. And, while the obvious benefits are well documented, it’s actually even more impressive than “exercise can help your mood”.

At a very basic level, children and adults need physical activity in order to keep their bodies and minds regulated. Movement can help process emotions and can provide an outlet for intense emotions - both in terms of emotional dysregulation as well as the suppression of emotions. In fact, it can be a release for built up emotions; a runner's high, may be replaced by a runner's cry, which can be equally cathartic as pent-up emotions can do a number on our ability to handle day-to-day stressors.

Beyond day-to-day regulation, a few different things happen in your brain when you exercise: 1- new neurons are created; 2- neurotransmitters are released that improve brain function (and provide that mood boost), and 3- existing neurons are improved and strengthened (this is neuroplasticity - which you may remember from last month) and regular exercise may reprogram the brain.

There is also some data to suggest that in addition to reducing your body's stress response and anxiety levels, exercise may also help people not have panic attacks when their fight or flight is activated, and that regular exercise may as effective as antidepressants in some cases in terms of a decrease in depressive symptoms.

Aside from the benefits described above - being active is a great thing to model to your children and teenagers. And remember, when you’re trying to model something to your child, there’s no need to say “See? Do you see how I took deep breaths to help me handle my big feelings?” Just do it, when your child is around, more than once. You can say, however, something like this: “I’m feeling a little stressed, I’m going to go for a walk.” Or “You know, I do think I feel a little less anxious after that run outside.” Just play it cool.

One other thing:

If exercise is such a mood boost, why is it hard to get your body moving sometimes?

There are a variety of reasons, but one is that a lot of people carry an “all or nothing” kind of approach to exercise. Either you’re able to work out for 60 minutes, or you do nothing at all. Either you can make it to an exercise class, or you do nothing at all.

Some is better than none. Taking a ten minute walk is better than not moving your body. A five minute yoga video at home is better than not moving your body.

You may even be more productive after a workout - for about two hours - in case you’re able to use that timing to your advantage.

Fingers crossed that we are approaching some spring weather that will make that long (or short) walk hard to resist.


Dr. Kate

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