Mental health articles

OF mental health care and mentally ill

Fitting exercise into your life

As explained, aerobic exercise is a very important tool in the struggle to defeat stress, and it is also very good for anxiety and depression. In fact, it is excellent for all forms of mental health. It is great for general health as well: it can help to cut down on the risk of your developing major illnesses and it can help you to live longer. Much of ageing is due to decreased mobility as a result of an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Regular exercise makes you feel and look better. It helps to release serotonin and endorphins—the “happy” hormones, responsible for the “feel-good” factor. It boosts your energy levels, reduces tension and anger, improves concentration, improves your sleep, increases heart and lung capacity, increases bone density, and has many other benefits for specific illnesses.

Alittle exercise goes a long way. You do not have to take out a subscription to a gym (that is how they make their money), run a marathon, or become a health freak. However, it is usually necessary to fit more exercise into your life—somehow—and then try to keep on doing it regularly. The best form of exercise is aerobic exercise—where you get out of breath, and feel a bit hot and sweaty. Ideally, you should try to do some aerobic exercise about 4–5 times per week, or 5–6 times a week in more severe cases, with a minimum of 30–45 minutes each time. (This way the effects last longer, as after only twenty minutes the effects drop off quite quickly.) You can do this type of exercise any time, anywhere, anyhow: it really doesn’t matter. It just works! The really hard bit is adapting your life-style to include such exercise. And you do not really have much of a choice about this— because it works. It is therefore stupid to ignore something that is so simple and so effective. Even people with a disability, or in a wheelchair, or with a heart condition, can find ways of doing a workout.

The trick, and the challenge, is to do it regularly. We live, increasingly, in a sedentary, urban society. If we do not use our bodies, we get out of shape, unhealthy, and obese. We also get miserable: look at some of the faces around you! The remedy is relatively simple—get out of that chair, put the “sweats” on, and get out! You will be surprised and astonished at how much better you feel if you start to do this sort of exercise regularly. Even twice or three times a week makes an incredible difference. There is often a difficulty, or a reluctance, in breaking the pattern or habit of our lives. Even if we are depressed, anxious, or struggling, something keeps us in that pattern or habit. We have to realize that this habit is the problem. It is not that weare the problem; it is the habit we have got into. It is a bad habit, because it gives us a problem. We have built an identity around that pattern: we think this is who we are. That is not true. That is what we do, not who we are. We are someone who has just got a little stuck in that pattern. And we can change that. Here are a number of suggestions about how to change your pattern of how you fit exercise into your life—or the pattern of how you don’t. Choose one, two, or more of these suggestions that might work for you.

“Power-walk” (you do not have to jog) around the edge of the local golf course or park.

Use an MP3 player or a Walkman to make it more interesting.

Occasionally bike to work, or to visit someone on your bike.

Get an exercise bike, treadmill, or stepper; put it in the corner of the bedroom or living room; and use it regularly—especially if it is raining outside!

Instead of watching or listening to your favourite “soap” while sitting down—exercise while you do so.

Join a Tai Chi or Yoga class once a week: there is almost bound to be one quite close to you nowadays. Maybe do this withyour partner, friend, or flatmate, it will be something different to talk about.

Shops such as TK Max sell simple Pilates equipment quite cheaply: get some and use it; there are often instructional DVDs that come with the equipment.

Most evenings, try to walk around the block for half an hour before you go in and get ready for bed.

Swimming 30–40 lengths (using different strokes) whenever you go to the swimming pool.

Volunteer to exercise your neighbour’s dog: make him/her very happy and get lots of doggy love while you get slim and trim—and happier.

Get a local Ordnance Survey map and start to explore some of the local footpaths.

Get a pedometer, clip it on your belt or waistband, and count your daily steps: try to build up towards 10,000 steps per day (most people do 3,000–5,000 anyway).

Get out of the car on the way home from the weekly shop and power-walk the last two miles while the others drive home and put the shopping away.

Double-dig the garden vegetable plot; clear out the garden shed, attic, or garage; make a compost heap (or turn it over); do something active around the house or garden.

Get off the bus one or two stops early and walk the last few hundred yards or so.

If it is raining, get busy with the housework: vacuuming (175 calories per hour), shopping (245), sweeping (280), cleaning the f loor (315), painting (360), etc.

If you are relatively immobile, get some mini-dumbbells and hand-weights for your hands and arms only.

In the local newspaper there are usually announcements about where and when the local Ramblers’ group meets. Go along once or twice and see what it is like, what they are like, and whether you like that sort of walking/social activity.

Alight foam exercise mat in front of the TV, and a Pilates or Yoga video or DVD, and you are away on a new course of exercise.

Try to make a point of doing one good long walk (6.5–10 miles/10–16 km) every couple of months, ideally up and down some steep hills.

Join up with a work colleague and exercise, play squash, badminton (or something similar), for forty-five minutes during a lunch hour or after work, once a week.

Get a group of friends, church-goers, work colleagues to form a team together, meeting once a month or so, to (say) raise money for charity by doing sponsored walks, competing with other teams, digging gardens, washing cars, doing a halfmarathon, etc.

Work towards a long-term goal: power-walking a marathon (or half-marathon); doing the West Highland Way, the Pennine Way, or the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella; going on a cycling or trekking holiday—along the Great Wall of China, or to Maccu Picu (Machu Picchu), or whatever takes your fancy—or your wildest dream! Thomas Jefferson once said, “Walking is the best possible exercise.

Habituate yourself to walk very far”. Walking is relatively cheap, easy, and can even be quite fun. You might even get to meet some of the “joggers”, “dog-gers”, or “floggers” (joke) as you walk around the nearest golf course regularly every week.

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