Living a healthy lifestyle by incorporating regular exercise has been shown to improve brain function and overall health. When we exercise, our body naturally releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin to improve our mood. Our bodies have this natural drug to make us happier. But why is it so hard for many people to exercise if we know it will help our mental state?
As a huge mental health advocate and someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I know the struggle it takes to start a routine of exercise. According to the Stanford School of Medicine, 10 percent of Americans will experience depression and if a relative in your family has suffered from depression, you or someone in your family is 5 times more likely to develop it. But this doesn’t mean we have to become a part of the statistic. If I’ve learned anything from this journey, it’s that we are such strong and badass human beings with the ability to re-write our story at any given moment. Here are my five steps of mental health exercises that you can start to incorporate daily.
The Five Steps of Mental Health
About a year ago is when I decided that enough was enough, and that I wasn’t going to allow my depression to define me. It was a scary decision, however, I knew it needed to be done in order to survive. By taking these steps, you will become a badass warrior. Everyday is a choice in this journey and you decide whether or not to show up. But I promise, you’re not in it alone.
STEP 1. Exercise: I think most of us get intimidated by big global gyms and fear of judgement, not knowing what to do, or even having any idea where to start. If you are new to exercise, get outside and walk. It is free and the easiest place to start. Not only does being outside bring clarity to the mind by being in nature, it’s a judgement free zone. Start by walking 20 minutes a day and gradually increase. If you are a veteran of exercise or one that needs the gym to start, don’t worry. Most gyms are judgement free and the fact that you are in there in the first place is a huge victory. A good gym will have people around to help you or if you ask someone next to you to help, they will likely be happy to give you some advice. This is also a good time to think about hiring a trainer and is where Elevated Fitness comes into play. A one on one judgement free zone where all you have to do is show up and do the work. We do everything else for you in a private one on one session.
STEP 2. Nutrition. I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying, you are what you eat. This is absolutely TRUE. Not only do we wear what we eat, we also feed our brain with what we eat as well. When we fuel our bodies with whole foods, we are giving our brain a chance to thrive and function at a high level. When we feed our body junk, we our now delaying the chance of our brain to function properly and at the highest level. Think about it. Our brains are working hard every single second. It takes care of our thoughts, our senses, our movements and our heartbeat. It never shuts off. Just like a car, you will need to put fuel in it to keep running. Same with our brain. It needs FUEL. What I tell my clients is start small. When we take out so many things from our diet, it sets us up for failure. But instead of cutting things out for the first couple of weeks, why not try adding something in? Don’t eat vegetables? Add in one vegetable a day. Not eating protein? Add in one protein a day. Plan AHEAD of time so that you’re not giving yourself a chance to go hungry or fail. Instead of reaching for the goldfish or corn nuts at work, pack an apple and almonds (skinny dipped almonds are my favorite almonds to snack on). Shop on the outside of the store not the inside of the aisles. Most of the time that is where the processed food lies and that’s something you want to try and give rid of immediately.
Step 3: Go Outside! I know for many people, getting outside is hard if you have a desk job, traveling a lot for work or work from home. Sunshine and fresh air is just hands down, GOOD FOR THE SOUL. If you have a job where it’s hard to escape, try taking your lunch break outside if the weather is good. Take your next phone call outside. Instead of meeting your girlfriends at starbucks to chat, grab your coffee to go and walk. There are many times throughout the day that we can pause and escape outside for a few minutes. Nature is healing for the mind, body and soul so take advantage of this free therapy!
Step 4: Sleep. Oh, if I could sum up one of the most important things to add into your health and wellness routine, this would be it. Sleep is highly important for brain function, performance and recovery. During sleep the body is working to recharge your brain and physical health. When someone is deprived of sleep, it can mess with metabolism, appetite, hormones and stress responses. Studies have shown that lack of sleep can be the cause of; obesity, diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease and the common cold. Some things you can do to get you back on a normal sleep schedule is as follows: Turn off all social media and electronics an hour before bed. The bright lights on electronics is actually stimulating the brain and telling it to stay on, when this should be a time to be slowing down. Create a schedule with yourself. For an example, be in bed by 10 every night. A healthy amount of sleep is 7-9 hours every night. The body responds well to a schedule and consistency.
Step 5: Surround yourself with Positivity.
Oh man, if I could give myself a dollar every time I allowed negativity in my life, I would be a millionaire. Literally, I would have a shit ton of money. I know that it sounds bad, even looks bad reading this, but I’m a people pleaser and I love everyone. I always say that I feel like God put me on this earth to just love people. Loving and helping people is a beautiful thing, however, there needs to be boundaries that you set for yourself, if you don’t, you’re not loving yourself. YOU are important. Negative people just wear you down. I’ve experienced it over and over again. The most important thing you can do for your health and well being is to surround yourself with people who are like minded. People who want to see you thrive, who push you to do better and be better everyday. Happy people make other people happy and as humans that allows us to thrive in life, relationships, and human connection. Positive relationships and friendships, will allow you to flourish and motivate you to be better everyday. When is the last time you checked your inner circle? Are they on the same path as you? Do they only bring you down or are they helping build you up? I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to cut people out without an excuse. Your mental and physical health is so much more important than being afraid of letting go.
Exercise for your mental health and well-being is a powerful tool that many of us underutilize. As stated above, it is not just physical exercise that can be an influence on your well-being but also the other four other steps I listed above. It may not be easy to start and breaking old habits while starting new ones can be intimidating. Start one or two of these steps and incorporate the others over time. WE are POWERFUL. WE are IMPORTANT. WE are WORTH IT. Give yourself a fighting chance.