Exercise is more for your mind than your body

Exercise is a fantastic mechanism for enhancing or lifting the mood and if you are like me, someone who likes to train in the morning it can really help set the tone for the day. The heightened mood sends a ripple through all aspects of your day and will most likely have a positive impact on decisions made throughout the day – including nutritional choices around food.

If you’re feeling good about yourself as a direct result of exercise, you’re much more likely to gravitate towards healthy foods. Exercise physiologist Simon Rosenbaum, from The Black Dog Institute, has been using exercise as a therapy tool for his patients with depression and PTSD and seen positive outcomes. A combination of blue, green and strength training has been seen to be the main drivers of mood and outlook amongst sufferers. I’ve worked with The Black Dog Institute for a number of years, which is an Australian based organisation which funds research into mental health, bipolar and depression. Research has shown that improvements in mental health are seen by sufferers who engage in some activity per week, that was once engaged in none. Their findings also state it’s less about the intensity of the exercise and more about actually being engaged and active – even low intensity exercise such as swimming and walking was sufficient to elicit positive outcome.

Having a structured exercise regime is an effective tool for mental health and depression and as valid as therapy as medications in some incidences. To me, surfing would be up there for mood elevating exercise, once you are out in the ocean it’s very hard to think about stress, work or issues – instead of the focus in the here and now – it’s not to say your worries and stresses disappear but for the time you’re paddling they may as well have which gives me some daylight from them which as a therapeutic tool can be invaluable. In my experience even being close to the water helps to place life into perspective – the great vast openness making stresses melt away into a trickle of insignificance. Perhaps as my surfing improves, I’ll have the capacity to think about work emails AND surfing but until that point, it’s a great form of pleasurable exercise that places you in the present moment.

Being present is a great tool to help combat stress, for me, surfing allows me the disconnect from work, for my wife it’s painting, whatever yours is or will be, it’s important to engage as often as you can, particularly as stress can escalate. I’m certainly not impervious to stress and anxiety …just ask my wife but training or surfing can certainly put me in a more positive frame of mind, and arm me with better coping ability. If you’ve never used exercise for this purpose, I strongly advise you try.

A study published by the American College of Sports Medicine found that acute bouts of exercise were enough to offer mood enhancement for patients suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD) “Although this would not be expected to have an impact on the underlying mental disorder, a single bout of exercise does appear to be a useful method for patients with MDD to regulate their mood in the short term, with a particular effect on positive moods. Given the debilitating symptoms of depression, a respite such as this is potentially invaluable to those who suffer from MDD”.

We have such a strong association and affinity with exercise being the solution to health and weight management that we can tie ourselves up in knots trying to achieve the goals we want through exercise. The truth is nutrition and sleep are the biggest drivers for health and weight management which allows some freedom of expression with the mode of exercise we can choose. It offers an alternative to the heavily prescribed and advertised version of exercise which is a gym-based model in the western world. Pick a modality that flips your switch whether that is gardening, surfing, hiking, frisbee or dancing. As humans we are designed to move and move often, the low-intense activities such as walking form the foundation of our fitness and so we should engage in this several times a week – much of this come via incidental fitness (shopping, gardening etc) however we are also designed to move our bodies in more explosive ways from time to time. These actions include pushing, pulling, squatting, and climbing and so factoring in some of these each week is paramount to sustained fitness and contribute to health. Throwing in some heavy (it is all relative) lifting throughout the week will benefit your health. Do not get too hung up on a number of calories burnt per session and it’s the quality of your nutrition and sleep that will determine your weight.

As well as lifting heavy a few times a week try sprinting once a week – it’s the biggest bang for the buck and delivers a myriad of physiological benefits. So essentially there are some foundation blocks or principles in place now.

1. Move often at a low intensity – this can include ‘play’.
2. Lift heavy few times per week.
3. Sprint once a week.

Much of foundation number 1, will be eaten up by incidental fitness, the very notion of moving about your day. Do not be fooled into thinking you NEED a gym for foundation two or three – both can be achieved at home, in your backyard or local park. The third principle is an all-out bout of exercise, sprinting is a good example of high intensity training but find one which suits you. However you want to dissect your exercise just be consistent in doing ‘something’ – it’ll pay dividends and help to elevate your mood and cope with stress.

Scott Gooding Project | Health Coach AustraliaThe table above represents an approximate appropriation of exercise intensities throughout the week.

Remember, always consult a physician before embarking on an exercise plan.

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