I have moments of clarity while I’m exercising that really are unlike any others. I love yoga of course, and have had many epiphanies on my mat over the years, leaving a studio breaking down in tears or walking on air. But my most crisply creative moments come particularly when I run. Despite the fact that I dislike running quite a lot, I do it for the cardiovascular benefits and because of these unique joyful moments. I’ll be trudging along in a slow jog and suddenly have the proverbial light bulb illuminate above me. I’ll find a new way to think about a problem, or a new way to explain a metaphor that might help a client, or an idea about how to collaborate with other professionals. Almost spontaneously these new and refreshing thoughts come to me, and I know there’s power in movement.
There’s lots of research backing this up. Check out this article from the American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx. It’s a great overview of the mental health benefits of exercise and why therapists should be encouraging it more frequently. And this article from the Cooper Clinic echoes the same ideas, http://www.cooperaerobics.com/Health-Tips/Stress-Less/Research-on-the-Benefits-of-Exercise-and-Mental-He.aspx, reinforcing that getting moving has a tremendous positive effect on how we feel. In fact, there’s research to show that exercise, much like cognitive behavioral therapy, can be as effective as anti-depressants. That is pretty impressive, given the sometimes high costs and negative side effects of medication.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT advocating that everyone should discontinue mental health medications and exercise instead. We should always clear an exercise regimen with our healthcare providers first to ensure it's safe, and discontinue any medications only under the supervision of a physician. Some mental health conditions can make even small tasks very difficult, and in these cases medication is the best option. But for mild cases of depression or anxiety, and to help treat common health concerns like borderline diabetes and mild hypertension, there’s just so many benefits of exercise that we simply have to take notice. And for more complex conditions, using exercise in conjunction with other therapies can be very helpful.
So why then do we so often not want to exercise, and feel resistant even to the idea of it even though we're well aware of the payoff? I think the turning away from movement is related to the well-known law of physics…”a body in motion stays in motion and a body at rest stays at rest.” Whatever is still is just harder to get going.
What’s been your experience with running, or other forms of exercise? Why do you think it’s so hard to stay active sometimes? I’d love to hear comments and opinions! Thanks for reading. Go and be…and flourish.
Kambria Kennedy-Dominguez, Counselor and yoga teacher specializing in mental health, substance abuse and wellness.