How Exercise Helps the Anxious Soul

One of those things was to make it back to the gym to workout. For a long time, I was doing good. I was getting 30 minutes of cardio twice a week and a day of strength training. For me, this is considered exercise success. And then I got the flu and laid off the gym for a couple of weeks. During my illness and recovery, I had to cancel my appointments with my trainer and didn’t immediately reschedule. As every week went by it got harder to go back or even pick up the phone to make an appointment. For a while, I walked a little in the neighborhood to keep my strength up. And then the phenomenon that is pollen season in the south began. There was no way I could walk around my neighborhood anymore. I could barely stand to walk to my car and back. My stuffy head and immune stressed body did not encourage me to get my butt back to the gym. As the weeks went on I felt worse and worse. Was it the flu followed by allergies? Or was it something else? In my heart, I knew my lack of exercise was allowing my anxiety to creep back up. I could feel the tension rising in my muscles. My sleep was suffering and so was my temper. I have had call the gym/go to the gym on my to-do list for a month. Then this past weekend while I was taking my teenage daughter shopping I won a pair of “activewear” pants. Now these pants I won by filling out some entry card in a store could easily have turned into “yoga pants I watch TV on the sofa in” pants. But the store called the pants “activewear” so I decided to make it true. Monday afternoon I went to the gym with my luck bearing daughter in tow. WE had been talking about going to the gym for weeks. She has quit soccer and misses moving her body. She doesn’t want to take up a new sport right now but still wants to be active. But first one thing and another came up and we did not go. But after I won the pants I told her that Monday was our day. No matter what, we were heading to the gym to break my new activewear in. Monday afternoon found me physically tired from substitute teaching in a special education class and my daughter buried under a pile of homework. I moved some papers aside so she could see me and pointed at her saying, “You, Me, Gym.”

So we laced up our running/walking shoes, filled up our water bottles, and headed to the gym to do some cardio.

I showed her how to use a treadmill and an elliptical machine. We stretched. There was nothing magic about the 30 minutes of light cardio we did. In fact, I felt slow and sluggish the whole time. The gym was crowded, and we both forgot our earbuds so we couldn’t listen to music.  No magic light shone on us while we were working out. We just put one foot in front of the other for 30 minutes.
  • But then that night I slept like a baby. For the first time in weeks.
  • And the next morning I realized I had more energy.
  • My mood and motivation were improved throughout the day.
Now some of this may just be a high from scratching something big off of my to-do list. I conquered a stumbling block that was getting me down. But I think it is more than that. Studies show that 30 minutes of cardio three times a week is as effective at treating depression as taking an anti-depressant. And I don’t need a study to tell me how much better my anxiety is when I exercise. It is a game changer for me. So my daughter and I have committed to three times a week. No matter how we feel or what is going on. We pinky swore to lace up our shoes and move our feet. For our bodies, for our minds, for our souls.

Has it been a while (or forever) since you have exercised? Here are six quick tips.

  • Make sure you are wearing what you need to be wearing. Now I didn’t really need new activewear pants to exercise. But if I didn’t have a good pair of running shoes with a good insole, my middle-aged feet would be barking at me. Think about your body and what it needs to support the movement you have chosen.
  • Be sure to remember your water bottle. Actually drinking before, during, and after exercise will help you function best.
  • Don’t forget the tunes. Music can take exercise from drudgery to dance party.
  • Find an exercise buddy. Having a buddy will keep you motivated and accountable. And social interactions also help anxiety and depression, so two for one!
  • Finally, don’t forget to stretch after. Stretching not only prevents exercise-related injury, it also helps relieve muscle tension and anxiety. Again, two for one!

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