Looking after your emotional health is just as important as caring for your physical health. People who are emotionally healthy are in control of their emotions and behavior. They’re able to handle life’s inevitable challenges, build strong relationships, and lead productive, fulfilling lives. They bounce back when bad things happen and can manage stress without falling apart.
If your emotional health isn’t as solid as you’d like it to be, here’s the good news: just as you can improve your physical fitness by working at it, you can improve your emotional fitness, too. There are many things you can do to boost your mood, build resilience, and get more enjoyment out of life.
It takes time and commitment to build emotional health, but there’s a huge payoff. The more you make healthy choices that strengthen your emotional health, the better you’ll feel.
Exercise is one of the easiest and most effective ways of improving both your physical and mental health. A little regular exercise can ease depression and anxiety, boost energy and mood, and relieve stress. But you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. No matter your age or fitness level, there are lots of enjoyable ways to use physical activity to help you feel better, look better, and enjoy life more.
The life-changing benefits of exercise
Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise can improve your health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life. But that’s not what motivates most people to stay active. People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well–being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it doesn’t take hours of pumping weights in a gym or running mile after mile to achieve those results.
By focusing on activities you enjoy and tailoring a regular mild to moderate exercise routine to your needs, you can experience the health benefits of exercise and improve your own life by:
- Easing stress and anxiety. A twenty-minute bike ride won’t sweep away all of life’s troubles, but exercising regularly helps you take charge of anxiety and reduce stress. Aerobic exercise releases hormones that relieve stress and promote a sense of well-being.
- Lifting your mood. Exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. Exercise also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good.
- Sharpening brainpower. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.
- Improving self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful.
- Boosting energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise a day, and increase your workout as you feel more energized.
Despite all the life-changing benefits, many of us still think of exercise as a chore, either something that we don’t have time for, or something that’s only suitable for the young or the athletic.
There are many commonly-held myths about exercise that make it seem more arduous and painful than it has to be. Overcoming obstacles to exercise starts with separating fact from fiction.
Why we don’t exercise
“I don’t have enough time to exercise.”
Even short low-impact intervals of exercise can act as a powerful tool to supercharge your health. If you have time for a 15-minute walk with the dog, your body will thank you in many ways.
“Exercise is too difficult and painful.”
Consider “no pain, no gain” the old fashioned way of thinking about exercise. Exercise doesn’t have to hurt to be incredibly effective. You don’t have to push yourself to the limit to get results. You can build your strength and fitness by walking, swimming, even playing golf or cleaning the house.
“I’m too tired to exercise.”
Regular exercise is a powerful pick-me-up that can significantly reduce fatigue and make you feel much more energetic. If you’re feeling tired, try taking a brisk walk or dancing to your favorite music and see how much better you feel afterwards.
“I’m too old to start exercising,” “I’m too fat,” or “My health isn’t good enough.”
It’s never too late to start building your strength and physical fitness, even if you’re a senior or a self-confessed couch potato who has never exercised before. And exercise is a proven treatment for many diseases—from diabetes to arthritis. Very few health or weight problems make exercise out of the question, so talk to your doctor about a safe routine for you.
“I’m not athletic.”
Do you hide your head when the tennis ball approaches? Are you stumped at the difference between a foul ball and a free throw? Join the ranks. Don’t worry if you’re not sporty or ultra-coordinated. Instead, find an activity like walking, jogging, or yoga that makes you feel good to be in your body.
“Exercise is boring.”
Sure, pounding on a treadmill for an hour may not be everyone’s idea of a good time. But not all exercise has to be boring; just about everyone can find a physical activity they enjoy. Try playing ping-pong (table tennis) or activity-based video games with your kids. So-called “exergames” that are played standing up and moving around—simulating dancing, skateboarding, soccer, or tennis, for example—can burn at least as many calories as walking on a treadmill; some substantially more. Once you build up your confidence, try getting away from the TV screen and playing the real thing outside.
To reap the benefits of exercise, you don’t need to devote hours out your busy day, train at the gym, sweat buckets, or run mile after monotonous mile. You can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise with 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Two 15-minute exercise sessions can also work just as well.
If that still seems intimidating, don’t despair. Even just a few minutes of physical activity are better than none at all. If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time. The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more. The key is to commit to do some moderate physical activity—however little—on most days. As exercising becomes habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.
Moderate exercise means two things:
- That you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not out of breath. For example, you should be able to chat with your walking partner, but not easily sing a song.
- That your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.
Do I need different types of exercise?
While any kind of exercise offers tremendous health benefits, different types of exercise focus more on certain aspects of your health. You can concentrate on one type of exercise or mix them up to add variety to your workouts and broaden the health benefits.
- Aerobic activities like running, cycling, and swimming strengthen your heart and increase your endurance.
- Strength training like weight lifting or resistance training builds muscle and bone mass, improves balance and prevents falls. It’s one of the best counters to frailty in old age.
- Flexibility exercises like stretching and yoga help prevent injury, enhance range of motion, reduce stiffness, and limit aches and pains.
If you’re not ready to commit to a structured exercise program, think about physical activity as a lifestyle choice rather than a single task to check off your to-do list. Look at your daily routine and consider ways to sneak in activity here and there. Even very small activities can add up over the course of a day.
- In and around your home. Clean the house, wash the car, tend to the yard and garden, mow the lawn with a push mower, sweep the sidewalk or patio with a broom.
- At work and on the go. Look for ways to walk or cycle more. For example, bike or walk to an appointment rather than drive, banish all elevators and use the stairs, briskly walk to the bus stop then get off one stop early, park at the back of the lot and walk into the store or office, take a vigorous walk during your coffee break. Walk while you’re talking on your cell phone.
- With friends or family. Walk or jog around the soccer field during your kid’s practice, make a neighborhood bike ride part of weekend routine, play tag with your children in the yard or play exercise video games. Walk the dog together as a family, or if you don’t have your own dog, volunteer to walk a dog from a shelter. Organize an office bowling team, take a class in martial arts, dance, or yoga with a friend or spouse.