How Physical Activity Can Improve and Sustain Your Mental Health | Rice Psychology
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How Physical Activity Can Improve and Sustain Your Mental Health

This week’s blog is personal and one that I hope you can draw inspiration from and use to enhance your quality of living.

I previously shared with you that, for a long time, I put my health on the backburner. I’ve struggled with my weight since I was a teenager and typically ate whatever I wanted, even if it was very unhealthy. And exercising? Yes, if it meant riding horses. No, if it meant cardio, strength training, or going to that place we call “the gym!” Over time, these bad habits began to take a toll on my physical health (think lower back, feet, and blood sugar levels).

A much less talked about, but equally important, aspect of health involves our brains. The more I learned about the role of exercise and healthy eating in maintaining cognitive and mental health, and that weight circumference matters for more than just pant size, the more concerned I became about how I would stay healthy enough to continue my heavily brain-based job for the next 30 years.

The more I let myself go physically, the harder it was becoming to keep it all together mentally.

So, in case you didn’t read the first blog in this series, I will let you know that, after indulging myself in unimaginable ways during the first months of the pandemic, I decided that it was time to have a heart-to-heart discussion with my doctor. I finally decided that something needed to change and that something was me.

So, in addition to wrangling my eating and increasing my water intake, I finally found a way to add some legitimate physical activity, in addition to riding my horse, into my life.

Changing My Habits and Feeling Better

Being at home almost all the time and not driving here, there, and everywhere made it much easier for me to control what I put into my body and exercising regularly with the help of a wonderful personal trainer and Milo. I started paying attention to the health stats on my Apple Watch and, low and behold, little by little, I got smaller, stronger, healthier, and fitter.

I can now physically do things I never imagined being able to do, like push-ups, planks, and jog short distances without the fear of passing out or falling. And my body control, strength, stamina, and balance when I ride my horse have noticeably improved.

Of equal importance is how I feel about myself and the knowledge that I’m keeping my brain healthy by exercising. I’ve committed to these changes for both today and preventative reasons. I want to do everything I can to preserve my brain functioning.

Science has shown that you decrease the chances of developing Alzheimer’s by following a lifestyle plan that includes clean eating, regular exercise, and some dietary supplements. Because of my family history on both sides, I’ve decided that, if there’s a way to avoid developing dementia (such as Alzheimer’s), then I’m going to make it my business to live now in a way my future self will be thankful for. And the bonus is that today I’m feeling great, both physically and mentally!

If you’ve read enough – call it a day here. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about my journey and what you can do, then please read on.

Make it Simple and Enjoyable

Now, I must confess, I’m not the kind of person who works out for hours or visits the gym (um, no!) daily to feel like I’ve gotten in a good workout. I realized very early on that if I was going to stick with this new lifestyle, I’d have to incorporate activities that I enjoyed. And I can tell you that the gym is the furthest thing from that.

Have you heard runners describe that state of euphoria they feel after their run, known as the “runner’s high?” The gym was the antithesis of the runner’s high for me. However, I figured out that I can get that same high when I’m doing something I really enjoy. And other than riding horses, my workout equipment currently consists of an exercise ball, two eight-pound weights, and a Bosu (half a ball on a flat surface that can be used as a step or balance platform).

I spend 30 minutes twice a week with a personal trainer who helps me via Zoom. I also walk Milo more often than usual and stay more active when I’m doing horse-related activities like mucking out stalls, sweeping, and grooming.

This works for me, and I’m encouraging you to find what works for you. You don’t have to pay expensive memberships for a gym. You don’t have to overexert yourself and run many miles uphill to exercise your body and mind to the fullest.

In fact, there are so many workout apps and streaming programs, that we know you’ll find something you love, or at least like to do, from the comfort of your own living room.

Trust me, when you enjoy something and are comfortable with it, you’ll stick with it.

What Experts Are Saying

Just in case my personal experience and advice weren’t enough to convince you to find the time to move a little more, here are two books on the matter that I highly suggest reading.

The first is called Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey, M.D. This is a brilliant book that lays out how to use breaking a sweat to beat stress, lift your mood, fight memory loss, and sharpen your mind. Dr. Ratey does an incredible job of discussing the mind-body connection and introduces research that proves exercise is, without a doubt, the best medicine against depression, addiction, Alzheimer’s, and so much more.

Click here for more info about this book.

My second recommendation is The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline by Dale E. Bredesen, M.D. In this fascinating read, Dr. Bredesen explores plans that help prevent and possibly reverse Alzheimer’s. This book will leave you thinking differently about the disease.

Click here for more info about this book.

Now that you’ve read about my journey, thoughts, and advice on how exercising can change your physical and mental health in big ways, I hope this motivates you to either make the positive changes you need in life or continue the wonderful lifestyle you’re already living. Remember, life is a marathon, not a sprint. Do what works best and what makes you feel good now and excited for the future.

The Support You Need

If you’re lacking the motivation to make important changes in your life and need a push, then our team in Tampa can help! Contact us to schedule your free, 10-minute consultation. We currently offer private, online sessions via telehealth as well as a limited number of online and in-person evaluations for all ages.

Keep an eye out for our next blog which lays out some ways to change tiny habits in your life to make bigger changes.

About Rice Psychology

Rice Psychology Group is home to a team of psychologists who work tirelessly to help adults, adolescents and children deal with their issues. Whether you’re currently dealing with depression, going through a divorce or fighting an issue you just can’t understand, know that our Tampa psychologists are here to help.

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