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Get Your Gym Socks On: How Forming a Healthy Exercise Routine Can Help Your Mental Health

Let’s face it. Getting into a healthy routine of exercising and staying active isn’t easy. If it were, you’d never find an open treadmill at your gym. Everyone would be there. It’s so much easier to go home, drop on your couch, and try to forget the day. But when you have a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, the easy way out isn’t always the better choice.

Exercise is one of the most effective ways you can improve your mental health. Regular exercise (yes, that means forming a habit) can profoundly impact symptoms of depression and anxiety, in a positive way. Exercise has additional benefits as well. It helps to relieve stress, can improve your memory, and helps you to sleep better. Think of the last time you worked out in a way that challenged your body. Do you remember how good it felt to lie your head down on your pillow and sink into your mattress?

You don’t have to be that person that posts your 4 mile run everyday on Facebook, or have to be up at the crack of dawn to get in an hour workout before heading off to work. Research has shown that even a moderate amount of exercise can help boost your mood. So start small. Try going to the gym 3x a week and spend 30 minutes walking or running on the treadmill. Small steps are still positive steps, and it might be easier to form a habit starting with more manageable goals.

One of the most difficult parts about forming an exercise routine is working yourself up for it mentally. I can talk myself out of any workout that I’ve previously planned, and sometimes I go looking for an excuse to avoid it. What’s ironic though, is that I spend all this time looking for a way out, but I actually enjoy it. Once I’m there working out, and the feeling I have when I’m walking out the door is a good one. I feel good about myself. I feel less stressed. I feel happier, but I think sometimes that gets lost so here’s my challenge. Start your new routine, and keep a journal. Write how you feel before and after you workout. Try to build up some evidence for yourself to reinforce why you enjoy this habit and why it’s good for your life.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, I’ll leave you with this. Studies have shown that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication (but in this case there are no side-effects of course). In addition to relieving symptoms of depression, research also shows maintaining this habit can prevent you from relapsing.

Your mental health is something you live with each day, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do about it. This month we’re exploring a number of ways you can take your mental health into your own hands. We always encourage seeking help from a counselor or mental health professional. Therapy can be a life-changing experience, but we also know there are a number of choices you make each day that can help you feel better emotionally and physically.