April 9, 2015

Exercise Perscription for Mental Health

From improved memory and mood to
increased alertness and focus, physical
activity has amazing benefits to our
mental health.
Did you know that it takes only 15-30 minutes of walking per day to benefit both physical and mental health?  In fact, it has been noted in the research that regular physical activity (such as walking) can treat mild to moderate depression as much as anti-depressant medication.  So if 30 minutes is good...that would mean more would be better right? Wrong. When referring to the dose-response (how much exercise to what effect), once you surpass 30 minutes, the response is less impactful.  In other words, you receive less return on your exercise investment after reaching the 30 minute mark.  This is great news for anyone out there dreading exercise or the battle between you and Lycra spandex. 

What's even more interesting is the research that has examined the differences between exercise in a gym versus the great outdoors.  In a nutshell, if you are looking to strengthen your mental health and resiliency (meaning to overcome or manage stress better) physical activity in nature is your best bet.  Being connected to natural environments is one thing many city-dwellers don't get enough of.  The results can relate to mental health challenges such as depression, chronic stress, and a lower sense of quality of life.

So what's wrong with the gym? Some people just love the gym atmosphere...I was one of them for many many years.  Unfortunately, choosing a gym environment will expose you to a higher tendency to socially compare yourself to others (just like you do on Facebook).  People tend to wear revealing clothing that create a sense of intimidation for others and, in turn, can manifest itself into a more negative body image.  From cleaning sprays and other nasty smells to the stressful clanging of weights and groaning of mechanised equipment (not to mention group fitness classes moving to music volumes that can ruin your hearing later in life - not that I know anything about that) the gym culture may not be conducive to strengthening your mental fitness.  In fact, I will go so far as to suggest it doesn't do a thing for your mental health.

You can chose to walk on a treadmill and look outside...or you can walk outside.  If you aren't living in arctic Canada, and have the option, why would you chose the treadmill? The treadmil can't provide the uneven terrain through which you improve joint stability and core strength.  The treadmill is phoney fitness; walking is functional fitness.
If you are fortunate enough to live around a few trees and don't have a foot of snow on the ground most days of the year, you can enjoy what nature can offer by taking it outside.  If you are looking for a functional fitness program with mental health benefits you can't get better than exercising in the woods or on the beaches.  The natural terrain offers opportunities for balance training in addition to the cardio benefits from the activity.  The icing on the cake is not having to deal with membership fees, self comparison, body show offs, and the smells of sweat, dirty workout gear, and disinfectant spray...not that there's anything wrong with that.

From stairs and logs to cracks in the sidewalk and hills, outdoor exercise provides a "real life" workout plus provides you with a connection to nature and others (and not just those ignorant dog walkers who can't control their animals) you just don't get in the gym.  More importantly, you don't have to wear workout gear or wish you had the latest yoga pants or tank like that fitness model in the "motivational" poster hanging in the studio.

Fifteen to 30 minutes is all  you need for health...maybe 45 if you are going to stop by Starbucks on the way back. 

Check out my "video clip" link and you will see a clip entitled "23 1/2 Hours" that details all the fabulous benefits of moderate amounts of physical activity. It's worth the time and effort.

That's all I got.

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