I can engage in health-promoting behaviors like exercising regularly. But I should know my exercise limits and listen to my body for warning signs of injury. Beware of “over exercising” or exercising too much. Over exercising (exercising several times a day at training levels that are at or near maximal can contribute to depressed moods, eating disorders such as anorexia and other compulsive problems). The key is balance.
Twenty-five percent of the U.S. population report zero leisure time physical activity. This inactivity contributes to both physical and mental disabilities. Exercise or “getting off your butt” has many physical and mental benefits. Exercise can help brain cells develop, help reduce the likelihood of contracting various disorders like heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, prostate cancer. It elevates mood, reduces the risk of depression, and is a stress reliever and blocks age-related cognitive decline. Exercise has a mood enhancement effect. Active people are less depressed than inactive people.
Exercise has been found to be equally effective as antidepressant medications in treating individuals with Major Depressive Disorders and exercise was effective in preventing relapse. Exercise also helps people who are prone to be anxious from having panic attacks in threatening situations. Research also indicates that women who have breast cancer and who engage in exercise regain physical strength, develop a new sense of identity, achieve a sense of mastery and distract them from ruminative brooding on their illness. Physical exercise has been found to decrease smoking, alcohol, caffeine and junk food consumption, and even reduced impulsive spending, watching television and the tendency to leave dirty dishes in the sink. (For more examples, search for “Benefits of Exercise” on the Internet). At this point, it is not clear which form of exercise (aerobic exercise or weight training) affords the most health benefits. We do know that exercise can help buffer how the brain is going to respond to future stressors. Exercise can promote growth in the brain (“neurogenesis”).
It is recommended that individuals engage in moderate aerobic exercise like brisk walking at least 5 half-hour periods a week or vigorous exercise periods of 20 minutes at least 3 times a week. But even small amounts of exercise can make a difference right away. Doctors now prescribe exercise as a way to treat depression (every 50 minutes of exercise per week has been found to reduce levels of depression up to 50%) and for anxiety and anger problems. Individuals who worry about their anxiety symptoms can spiral into fears which increase their anxiety and so on. Exercise, no matter how minimal to begin with can help break this cycle. SO START MOVING!
As Joan Borysenko observes:
“Too many people confine their exercise to jumping to conclusions, running up bills, stretching the truth, bending over backward, lying down on the job, sidestepping responsibility, and pushing their luck.”
Individuals who avoid exercise and who tend to cope by engaging in persistent avoidance behavior need to move from what has been described as a TRAP to TRAC.
T Trigger R Response AP Avoidance Pattern
T Trigger R Response AC Alternative Coping
For example, instead of withdrawing and becoming depressed, there is a need for behavior activation (BA) in the form of some type of exercise and physical engagement. Keeping an Activity Chart and building in a reinforcement “pay-off” program for such alternative coping helps to develop daily routines that strengthen resilience.