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Exercise and Mental Health: Getting Started

Megan Mulroy, LPC 

It’s no secret that exercising can improve your mental health. Moving your body regularly for even just 20-30 minutes a day can decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, and increase mood and boost energy and productivity levels. Even though we have this information, starting to add exercise to your routine can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t like exercising or if you haven’t done it in a while. There are so many options and if you’ve ever gone to a gym, looked at all the equipment, and felt it was too much; you are not alone. Because moving our bodies is beneficial for our mental health, it is important to stay active. I’ve compiled some tips and tricks on how to stay active even if you hate exercise or are just are new to fitness. 

Walk Everywhere:  Walking is a great way to easily add exercise to your routine. If you don’t have the time to devote to a 30-minute walk, try parking your car farther away from a destination, or getting off a bus stop early on your way to work.  You can also use the time walking to listen music or to call a friend. If you have access to a treadmill, you can even read or do work while walking. 

Join a Sports Team: If you live in a city or a densely populated area, chances are that there is an intermural sports team you can join. When you are busy being competitive and playing a game that you enjoy, you might even forget that you are exercising. 

Switch It Up: A quick way to get burnt out is by doing the same type of exercise every day.  By switching up the type of exercise you do every day, your chances of fitness becoming a regular part of your routine increase. By trying new classes or exercises, you stave off boredom, and might even have fun doing it. 

Incorporate Low Impact Exercise: Many people have an idea that working out must consist of straight sweat, nonstop running, or heavy lifting. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! Low impact exercise like yoga, barre, tai chi, or pilates can help clear your mind and ground yourself all while getting a killer workout. Sweat and exhaustion are not always the best indicators of how hard you are working or if you are getting in a good workout. 

Dance: The next time you are at a party, wedding, or a concert, get moving on the dance floor. Jumping up and down, singing along, and moving to the beat are easy ways to get your steps and exercise. 

Look at Your Hobbies: What are some things that you already love that could be incorporated into fitness? If you are a gamer, look into video games like Wii Tennis or Dance Dance Revolution to get you moving. If you love watching reality TV, play an episode while riding a stationary bike. Do you love your dog? Take her out for a jog or throw the frisbee around with him. Get creative in how you spend your time! 

Be Kind to Yourself: If you do something you don’t like, don’t feel pressure to do it again. Just because your roommate loves running, doesn’t make you a bad person because you can’t stand it. Be kind to yourself when choosing activities, and work to find something you enjoy. 

Exercising can seem overwhelming especially if you don’t always enjoy working out. Instead of framing exercise as something you have to do, try reframing it as a part of your life that keeps you healthy in a multitude of ways. Try new things and know that there will be days when you don’t feel like being active. At the end of the day, always remember to listen to your body and respect what it needs.

Talk to your therapist to learn more ways to care about your physical and mental health for a better quality of life. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to meet with one of our Chicago counselors in-person or via online counseling.

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