By Kacie Mitterando, LMSW
Do you struggle to exercise during the winter? The evidence says it’s super important to keep up your exercise routine throughout the colder months.
Weather and activity level have a synergistic and powerful impact on our mood. In one particular study, Bradley Cardinal (an exercise physiologist at Oregon State), observed a decrease in exercise during the colder months. Cardinal reports believing that this decrease is directly due to the environmental change (1). With depression and anxiety on the rise, it is a crucial time to discuss the impact our physical health has on our emotional and mental health.
While exercise and fitness have great external rewards, such as an increase in physical health and physique, the benefits exercise has outside of physical appearance can be drastically more significant.
Mental Health Benefits of Exercise:
1. Exercise and depression: In the past few years, research has shown that exercise can help to reduce symptoms of mild and moderate depression in a similar effectiveness as antidepressants. Additionally, the maintenance of an exercise program can even decrease symptoms of depression long-term. Overall, exercise has a positive influence on hormones in the brain. After a period of increased activity the brain releases endorphins, which are a hormone linked to an increase in our overall mood and well-being. Interestingly enough, exercise can actually create new activity patterns inside your brain along with aiding in neural growth.
2. Exercise and anxiety/stress: Exercise is considered one of the most effective forms of anti-anxiety treatment. By getting up and moving your body for 30 minutes a day, mental energy can increase and tension in the body can decrease. As a result, your body and mind can both feel more relaxed after a workout.
3. Exercise and trauma: For those who have experienced trauma or even have a PTSD diagnosis, the physical symptoms experienced such as the “freeze” response developed in your nervous system can become debilitating. By paying close attention to the sensations in your body during exercise, such as the way your joints and muscles feel when they move, studies have shown that PTSD symptoms can be reduced (2).
OK, so you’re sold on the exercise piece, but what’s the next step?
1. Find some form of working out that you love: If running is not an activity that you enjoy, then it is OK to not run. In fact, there are tons of different methods of exercise that can be just as effective. More importantly, the most effective exercise routine is the one that you enjoy. Try a spin, barre, pilates, OrangeTheory or CrossFit class! If these options don’t interest you, a simple internet and Pinterest search can give you some great lifting or at home workout routines.
2. Start slow: Some of the positive mental health effects of an exercise routine will happen immediately! However, it can take around four weeks to begin to see longer-term changes in the brain. It’s important to not dive head first into working out and push yourself too hard. Start by adding in 1-2 days a week for 30 minutes and slowly add in an extra day with 5 more minutes, as you feel comfortable (3).
3. Balance: Once you find a workout that you love and feel you’ve set a decent routine in place, the most pivotal piece is to place an importance on a balanced approach to working out. Remind yourself that it is OK to skip a day of exercise for a family event, or a work function. Exercise should only be adding to your life, not taking away. Additionally, practice shifting your thought process to focusing on the internal effects you receive from an exercise routine, such as improved sleep, mood, self-esteem and overall well-being!
1. How to Keep Working Out In The Winter. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/how-to-keep-working-out-in-winter
2. The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm
3. Why Exercise Is So Essential for Mental Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/why-exercise-is-so-essential-mental-health