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Fontanillis Lake in the Desolation Wilderness


I’ve been doing an informal survey of my colleagues in the mental health field, asking them, “What are the things you think about when a client comes in feeling depressed?” All of them, without exception, mention exercise. It’s either their first or second thought.

Fontanillis Lake in the Desolation Wilderness

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 1999 found that participating in a regular aerobic exercise program increased the mood of people with depression as much as Zoloft, and as much as a combination of Zoloft and exercise as well. The follow-up study found that people in the exercise groups kept the depression at bay over time. That’s just one of a whole host of studies on exercise and depression, anxiety, recovery, self esteem, even parenting.  When you exercise, endorphins are released into the brain, and you get a happy feeling.  Regular exercise releases endorphins regularly, and you get, quite simply, happier overall.

The problem is sustainability.

People tend to think that every run has to be 3 miles, every hike up a mountain, every gym session an hour and a half. They set up impossible systems like waking at 5:00 AM, or lifting weights every day.  Most bodies can’t handle that and it causes quitting. I like the iphone apps called “Couch to 5K,” or “Ease into 5K.” The first run you do is 30 seconds!  They increase gradually from there, and after 9 weeks you get to 3 miles. A coach once told me, “if you train like this, you can accomplish anything,” and I tend to believe her. It’s doable because you can start where you are.

Everything counts. Walking, swimming, weeding, pillow fights, riding a bike, Kinnect, yoga, skiing, shooting hoops, dancing, picking the oranges, playing catch, hiking, running the dog, Zumba, Cross Fit, belly dancing, Frisbee, even vacuuming. It all works.

The solution? Motivate from the inside out

It’s wonderful to be inspired by others. It’s great to have exercise buddies. But judging your own body by another’s capabilities isn’t an effective mood lifter. Nor is looking for your motivation in the mirror because we tend to see only what we’re not. Compare and despair. Instead, try this: remember a time when you felt fit, energetic, and engaged in the world. Close your eyes and rest with that feeling in your mind and body until it feels familiar. Then, as you exercise, see if you can contact that feeling again. Recognize it. Name it. Notice it every time you exercise. This is your very own feeling of well-being, made by you, just for you. With this as your motivation, you can find it anywhere,  even in this moment now.

Check out the research yourself:

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