Even moderate exercise has a mind-body connection

Now that spring is upon us, many people will be looking forward to getting out of the house and becoming more active.

The physical benefits of exercise and physical activity are well known, but there also is a strong psychological benefit to being more active.

Studies consistently have shown that regular physical activity can reduce stress levels, decrease symptoms of depression, improve sleeping habits, improve immune system functioning and even help to retain one’s cognitive abilities.

When people exercise, real physiological changes occur within the brain, which impacts our moods and well-being. Researchers have found that exercise triggers the body to release the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, all of which have been associated with improvements in mood. It is the release of these chemicals that helps to promote positive changes in our emotional health.

Fortunately, in order to reap the benefits of physical activity, one does not need to engage in a rigorous workout routine. Many sport psychologists suggest that even regular moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, may be enough to feel the psychological benefits that come with exercise.

For those who may want to find ways to increase their physical activity this spring, here are a number of suggestions that can help you to be more active:

Walking is an easy way to increase physical activity. Now that days are getting longer, there is more opportunity for you to take a walk around your neighborhood or to go for a light jog. Many local parks also have walking trails.

  • Ride a bike. Biking can be a great way to spend time outside and to see many of the local sights. Taking advantage of the local rail trail sites could be a fun and inexpensive way to spend time during the weekend.
  • Go for a hike. There are many local hiking trails that offer great views of the area. Many trails are free of charge and do not require you to have any specialized equipment.
  • Join a gym. For those of you who are not interested in outdoor activity, several local gyms offer inexpensive memberships. Many also offer group exercise classes, which might help to make exercise seem more fun and exciting.
  • Exercise with a friend. Sometimes eliciting social support while exercising can help to increase one’s motivation to be active.

Remember, there is a strong mind-body connection and being more proactive about physical activity can have a positive effect on your emotional well-being.

Why not take a few minutes every day to help not only your body but also your mind to prosper and remain healthy?

And, for your own safety, remember that it always is a good idea to consult with your primary care physician before beginning any exercise program.

Here’s hoping the warmer weather is right around the corner!

Schurr is a licensed psychologist. For more information, visit www.lycominghealthyliving.com.