by Alice Schluger
You may have heard the quote “the body achieves what the mind believes” from author Napolean Hill. But, what does that really mean? We don’t always think about the benefits of exercise for both body and mind or how they function together to formulate overall wellness. As the summer months approach, staying in shape is a goal for many of us, but this is only a superficial view of attaining fitness. If we want to achieve holistic health, it’s much more about our total well-being than just having a “bikini body” or “six-pack abs.” Aside from the mind being a muscle that we utilize for reasoning and decision-making, our mood and emotions are directly affected by the type of exercise we engage in.
According to a recent poll conducted by the National Wellness Institute, 59% of respondents indicated that physical activity was the primary means of boosting their mental health. This was in contrast to 22% who chose connecting with others, 15% who selected meditation/mindfulness, and only 4% who attributed this to therapy. These results are similar to other research findings on the relationship between mental health and exercise (Pearce, Garcia, & Abbas, 2022). A recent study also showed that physical activity is 1.5 times more effective than counseling or medication for anxiety and depression (Singh et. al, 2023).
It was not surprising that the closing of gyms, dance studios, and other athletic facilities during the pandemic took its toll on our mental health. We relied on these outlets to maintain our routines, and never imagined we would have to forgo this integral part of our lives. Not to mention that it was also a welcome form of socialization shared with others who had similar interests. Exercise is necessary to bolster our physical and emotional health, so it’s imperative to find ways to remain consistently physically active. Fortunately, there are many different options available both virtually and in-person to choose from nowadays. All we need to do is get creative and think out of the box!
Virtual Reality Check
There are several solutions right at your fingertips. Many of us have returned to the health club, team sports, and other in-person activities post-pandemic. Nonetheless, the virtual world has remained a primary mechanism for staying fit and connected to others. There are a wide variety of online classes and workout videos offered by gyms, Pilates and yoga studios, as well as professional dancers and other athletes. This is ideal if you crave structure and directed activities to remain motivated, but still prefer the virtual format. It’s also a chance to try something new and not feel intimidated by others. You can take these classes in the comfort of your own home in your PJs, without having to turn your video or audio on!
Be Your Own Best Friend
If you prefer solitary workouts, such as running, walking, or biking, the option to head outdoors is readily available. It’s important to keep our cardiovascular system in peak condition, and getting outside in nature is always a welcome experience. Remember to stay hydrated during workouts, especially in the warmer weather. As you learn to appreciate your own company, you will feel fulfilled and energized while participating in these independent activities. The release of endorphins from these forms of exercise is an added bonus to maximize psychological well-being. Additionally, this is a useful strategy to help us cope more effectively with increased stress and anxiety during these challenging times.
Cross-Train for Body and Brain
Achieving fitness requires dedication and commitment in the quest to attain peak performance, injury prevention, and remain in top condition. Cross-training is a perfect way to accomplish fitness goals while reaping the benefits of refreshing your body and mind. The opportunity to incorporate the benefits of cross-training has come to the forefront as we learn to adapt to our evolving lifestyle changes.
There are several forms of exercise that work best for recovery and prolonging athletic longevity. These types of regimens are advantageous for many athletes, but one size doesn’t fit all! Non-athletes can also participate in multiple forms of exercise for fun and fitness, and obtain similar physical and mental health results.
- Swimming, biking, walking, and yoga – All of these exercises can help alleviate sore muscles, repair tissue, and increase endurance.
- Pilates is an excellent choice for increasing core strength, overall stability, and enhanced movement.
- Cross-country or downhill skiing is great for aerobic fitness and improving muscle strength.
- Cycling at a lower resistance is another option to avoid bulky thigh muscles during cardio workouts.
- Weight training can be modified accordingly to accommodate targeted fitness goals.
Some Helpful Hints:
- Wear comfortable shoes/sneakersthat provide adequate support when walking, running, or working out at the gym.
- Pay attention to your posture and alignmentto increase flexibility, mobility, and stability.
- Exercise in moderation for optimal benefits.Your fitness routine should incorporate coordination, symmetry, and balance in your body to improve health and avoid injury.
Consulting with an athletic coach or trainer can be advantageous for establishing a personalized routine for your specific needs. These guidelines should be designed to accomplish objectives that are both realistic and attainable. Working in tandem with a coach to implement a plan that will help you avoid overtraining and burnout is advisable. A well-informed coach should focus on both physical and mental health concerns. They may address issues of self-confidence, self-esteem, perfectionism, resilience, or other factors that may interfere with peak performance.
In wellness coaching, the aim is to provide a solid support system while guiding clients through various components of the wellness continuum. The initial assessment tools are important for identifying visions, goals, and desires, as well as establishing areas for growth and action steps. The client-coach alliance assists with attaining a myriad of objectives outside of the general health realm. Physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health are equally important, so developing a whole-person approach is essential for optimal outcomes.
Developing mindfulness, insight, and awareness are key elements for clients to reach their full potential. The mind-body connection cannot be overlooked when we consider the interplay between movement, social connection, and how this influences our mental health. The collaborative coaching partnership is one without judgment, within an inspiring space of exploration and discovery. It also necessitates accountability from the client, which is imperative for taking responsibility for their ultimate success and life satisfaction.
The combined expertise of different types of coaches, or other health professionals is a consideration for attaining a comprehensive state of wellness. It’s empowering to take charge of our own health, in combination with the supervision and support of experts in the field. We can always learn more about self-care, maintaining healthy lifestyles, and creating tailored exercise routines. These are extraordinary times, so taking extra measures for optimal health is all the more crucial. Staying attuned to our own needs, and reaching out for support goes a long way towards accomplishing mental health improvement. The body, mind, and sense of well-being will thrive, as we become renewed and strengthened by nurturing this sacred vessel we inhabit.
Pearce, M., Garcia, L., & Abbas, A. (2022). Association between physical activity and risk of depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 79(6), 550-559. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.0609
Singh, B., Olds, T., Curtis, R., Dumuid, D., Virgara, R., Watson, A., Szeto, K, O’Connor. E., Ferguson, T., Eglitis, E., Miatke, A., Simpson, C., & Maher, C. (2023). Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety and distress: An overview of systematic reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine. doi:10.1136/ bjsports-2022-106195