Which Came First: Exercise or Attitude?
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Exercise improves one’s mood by increasing the production and release of hormones in the brain such as serotonin and endorphins. These hormones play a key role in improving sleep and helping boost metabolism.
Endorphins are endogenous neurotransmitters called endogenous morphine, hence the name endorphins, produced by the pituitary gland. They bind to the same receptors of the brain as pain relieving narcotics do, reducing pain and inducing feelings of euphoria. You can increase your endorphins by exercising, listening to music or eating appetizing food. The body even naturally releases endorphins in response to injury in order to overcome the sensation of pain.
Exercise is medicine
I like to tell my patients that exercise is medicine. While exercise cannot alter or remove stress from your life, it can help you manage stress and its physical effects. Physical activity helps:
- Lower blood pressure for up to 23 hours after exercising.
- Lower LDL (bad) cholesterol by 15-18%.
- Reduce depression by minimizing the production of immune system chemicals that worsen depression. Often, the chemicals produced by exercise are similar to those that are targeted by antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.
- Reduce anxiety in both its short- and long-term effects.
- Improve mood, sleep quality and sex drive.
- Manage ADHD by providing a specific activity that can improve focus. Studies have shown that children who do physical activity before tests perform better on all areas of testing, regardless of whether or not they have ADHD.
- Decrease risk of cancer and diabetes.
- Grow bone density.
- Improve balance.
Many people feel they don’t have time to exercise. I tell my patients they don’t have time to NOT exercise. When exercise is not scheduled and prioritized on the calendar like a meeting or date, it often falls by the wayside. Many people have mentally convinced themselves they don’t enjoy exercise and so it typically falls to the bottom of the to-do list. Other people feel guilty about taking time for themselves when there are other things they still need to accomplish in the day.
I encourage my patients by telling them to be good for others; they must take care of themselves first—with exercise at the top of my recommendations. By taking just 20-30 minutes to perform moderate intensity physical activity, you will reap many rewards, including being more efficient with your time throughout your day. Planning to work exercise into your schedule forces you to be more efficient elsewhere.
Personal and practical application
Physical activity almost always positively affects my attitude. This is one of the reasons I choose to run every morning. If I am particularly stressed or overwhelmed, I make it a priority to do a yoga class, which I have been enjoying for about seven years, or go for a run to alleviate my stress. I also love to do calisthenics to complement my running routine for muscle and bone strengthening.
There are so many opportunities throughout the day for me to get sidetracked or have an unanticipated event throw off my best intentions to exercise later. If I plan to do it first thing in the morning, nothing can stand in my way! When my patients ask me what is the best time of day to exercise, I tell them whatever time of the day they will follow through consistently.
Beginner’s guide to exercise
A beginner’s exercise program should incorporate aerobic activity with some muscle strengthening exercises. In general, I recommend aiming for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. This can be split into small increments, even if it’s just a few minutes at a time.
So where do you start? You can start by simply taking a walk, going for a bike ride, swimming a lap in the pool or hopping on the elliptical. As Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper likes to say, “Everyone should walk the dog twice a day, whether they have one or not.” I really like this thought process and share it with my patients to make the idea of exercise more attainable. For muscle strengthening, you could start with light hand weights or body weight exercises such as push-ups, situps, squats, lunges and planks. Something is better than nothing, so start slow and low and aim to gradually work up to your goals. You avoid a higher risk of injury by progressively increasing exercise intensity and duration.
Before you reap the benefits of exercise and its positive effects on your attitude, you must first change your outlook on the importance of exercise. With physical activity being proven to improve your mental and emotional state as well as your physical well-being, there is no reason to not exercise. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to get started—just get moving!
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Article provided by Riva L. Rahl, MD, Cooper Clinic Platinum physician.