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Boost Your Mental Health with Physical Fitness

What motivates you to stay active? It’s well known that physical activity can boost your immune system, trim your waistline, improve bone and joint health, circulation, aerobic capacity, and muscle size.  But did you know that physical exercise can have a profound positive impact on depression, anxiety and overall mental health?

COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on mental health concerns in every demographic across the globe. Physical exercise is a powerful medicine in treating and maintaining mental health — and generally comes with fewer side effects! Regular exercise can boost your mood, improve memory, help you sleep better, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and helps you focus. Regardless of your age or fitness level, exercise is something everyone can do.

A recent study discussed on HelpGuide.org found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing.

Exercise promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Along with the proven chemical changes, exercise serves as a distraction to break you away from the pattern from negative thoughts.

Even if you’re not suffering from mental health problems, ongoing physical activity is still important to your overall health. Exercise stimulates growth of new brain cells and builds strength in organs, bones and muscles, which can prevent serious health conditions and injury especially as you age. Physical fitness builds self-esteem both in the way you look and your sense of strength and accomplishment. It gives you more energy to tackle your day and helps you better cope with stress.

Knowing exercise is good for you, and wanting to exercise, is of course easier than doing the work. But remember — even 15 minutes of movement a day has a big impact on your physical and mental wellbeing.

Is time holding you back? Start by integrating exercise in your existing routine: take the stairs, park at the back of the parking lot, walk the long way to work, jog around your house when you arrive home at night, play tag with the kids. Soon these small changes will become a part of your daily life, and in time, you can increase these short workouts to 15-30 minutes sessions three to five times a week. The more you exercise the more energy you will have, leaving you ready for more!

You don’t know where to begin? There are limitless ways to exercise and move your body. Start by walking; if walking makes you bored, try a yoga class. Yoga’s not your thing? Take a variety of classes at the gym to find something that excites you! Another great way to get started is to hire a Personal Trainer. Personal Trainers can help you learn about what works well for your body and the safest way to achieve your goals. Hiring a certified professional can help take the guess work out of exercise and can keep you motivated to stick to a routine.

Exercising with a friend can also make workouts more fun and motivate you to come back for more. Adding a social element to your routine can be just as important as the exercise itself if you’re suffering from a mental health problem like depression.

Feeling exhausted or overwhelmed? When you’re tired, depressed or stressed, the thought of adding another activity to your busy schedule can feel hopeless. Studies have shown that exercise is energizing, so you will find that even small amounts of exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue and give you the energy to exercise longer. By prioritizing your physical fitness, and mental wellbeing, you’ll soon find ways to incorporate even small amounts of exercise into your daily life, making it a way to relieve stress rather than a cause of stress. Juggling busy schedules with small children and exercise can be challenging but find a creative way to include them in your routine (check out family videos on Y@HOME+) or make your health a priority by trading off with your partner or finding childcare so you can spend some time on yourself.

Can’t afford a gym membership? We said it before, and we’ll say it again — there are limitless ways to move your body and exercise is something everyone can do! Thanks to the pandemic (never thought those words would be said out loud), there is an endless amount of fitness and wellness content online, often available for free. YMCAhome.ca has hundreds of workout videos for everyone to enjoy, or our members have free access to Y@HOME+ which features exclusive content, workout plans, wellness videos and even live classes!

Find no-equipment exercises to get started now or strap on some shoes and enjoy the many benefits of exercising outside. Go for a hike, kayak or bike ride and soak in some vitamin D while you reap the rewards of physical fitness. Here is a link to the Bruce Trail maps for local hiking ideas. If you’re opting for aquatic exercise, be sure to know the safety guidelines before you head out on the water. Here are some guidelines for operating a kayak or canoe and here are some drowning prevention tips.

The YMCA also offers financially assisted memberships so everyone in our community can access programs and services to better their health and wellness. Contact us at 519-376-0484 ext. 0, email support@osgb.ymca.ca or visit the Welcome Desk at our Health, Fitness & Aquatics facility to get started.

If you have been thinking more about your mental health recently, you’re not alone. Try integrating physical fitness into your day and make note of the improvements you see. We promise, you won’t be disappointed!

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