by Mary Reitano

Winter can be long, cold, and grey.  Many people “hibernate” and become less active, like our friendly neighborhood bears.  We may put on “holiday” pounds, socialize less or even suffer seasonal depression.  Spring is a great opportunity to come out of hibernation!  Longer, sunnier, warmer days make it easier to get active.  Exercise is beneficial physically, emotionally, and psychologically.   Sophia Breene, health writer, noted “Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health and build muscle…but working out has above-the-neck benefits, too.”

Physical benefits include more energy and improved sexual performance. Also, a study in Mental Health and Physical Activity noted that moderate to vigorous exercise performed regularly creates better sleep quality compared to sedentary peers. Regular, moderate exercise may prevent springtime colds by upping the body’s immunity. Physical results from exercise may take time, but “the exercise mood boost offers near-instant gratification” per Michael Otto, psychology professor at Boston University.  Exercise is a positive distraction that may break negative-thought cycles feeding depression.  Mindful attention to your breathing or your feet hitting the ground during exercise may interrupt anxious thought patterns.  Dr. Daniel Landers, Arizona State University, wrote that anxiety and depression symptoms decrease after regular aerobic activity by raising levels of serotonin, endorphins and other chemicals.

Have you ever noticed how you feel when you are stressed? Muscles get tense–causing back, neck or headache pain. The related worry and discomfort lead to more stress.  Exercise breaks this cycle by relaxing muscles and relieving tension.  Exercise in sunshine boosts Vitamin D levels, shown to reduce depression.  Other benefits include more self-confidence, and a sense of accomplishment.  As emotional health, self-esteem and energy improve, social engagement and relationships may also improve.  Sports and exercise introduce you to new people with common interests, possibly leading to new friendships.  People often meet to go walking, or connect with people at the pool or tennis courts. When a friend is meeting you at the gym, nobody wants to let the other person down.  Enjoyable competition of team sports and golf leagues makes it more likely you will participate.

We know exercise is beneficial, but obstacles are real.  Here are ways to overcome common barriers.  When tired or stressed, working out seems counter-productive. But studies show regular exercise reduces fatigue and increases energy. When tired, try a five-minute walk—you will probably walk longer.  Michael Otto wrote “failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. That’s the time you get the payoff.”  When stressed or depressed, another obligation seems overwhelming.  However, physical activity helps us do everything else better.  If you prioritize activity, you will find time for it.

Who doesn’t want to have more birthdays?   A study published in the world’s leading independent general medical journal, The Lancet, suggests that daily workouts could be the real fountain of youth. “Even 15 minutes of physical activity a day can extend life expectancy by three years compared to people who didn’t exercise.”

Mary Reitano is a licensed Professional Counselor Associate practicing in Lake Lure, NC.  Her focus is positive psychology with a holistic approach addressing emotional, relational mental, physical and spiritual health.  She can be reach at 704-858-2926 or maryalisonreitano@gmail.com.