This article is brought to you by NASM
There is a multitude of reasons why individuals commit to a regular exercise routine. Engaging in a regular exercise routine is not only a tool used to improve the physical dimension of wellness but also its emotional one. Often the choice to engage in a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity conforms to an individual’s personal goals and motivational factors.
These unique motivators often relate to boosting one’s physical health, improving health metrics like blood pressure and cholesterol, preventing the onset of diseases, and improving the appearance or body composition. In addition to improving the physical aspects of health, individuals also commit to a regular exercise routine due to the array of mental health benefits it provides as well. This is important due to the high levels of stress that adults experience daily.
These stressors relate to working from home, navigating busy or demanding schedules, balancing work and personal commitments, and even responding to what is happening in the world around them.
According to The American Institute of Stress, stress levels among Americans are twenty percentage points higher than the global stress average. Of the ones surveyed, fifty-five percent of Americans report being stressed during the day. According to this same organization, sixty-three percent of United States workers are ready to quit their job to avoid work-related stress.
Similarly, the American Psychological Association reports that rates of anxiety and depression were four times higher between April 2020 and August 2021 than they were in 2019 due to the global pandemic. Since the pandemic is still an ongoing factor in today’s daily life, individuals are still experiencing higher levels of anxiety and depression than they did before the pandemic.
To look further into the current state of an adult’s stress levels, a recent study was completed by the American Psychological Association and The Harris Poll to better understand how the last two years have affected individuals’ stress levels. The results of this survey showed that adults are stressed due to other situational factors like inflation, supply chain issues, and even global uncertainty. What these statistics indicate is that there is a strong need for individuals to establish regular mental well-being practices to combat stress. One way to do this is by establishing a regular fitness routine.
KEEPING THINGS REGULAR
Regular exercise has been proven to significantly help individuals manage higher levels of stress and anxiety enhancing their emotional well-being consequently. Having high levels of emotional wellness relates to an individual’s ability to be aware of and manage one’s feelings and related behaviors, cope effectively with stress and challenges in life and adaptively express emotions. When someone is thriving in the emotional dimension of wellness, they might feel positive and excited about aspects of their life.
They also recognize and accept feelings as they come up in daily situations. Individuals with a strong degree of emotional wellbeing are more comfortable making decisions utilizing this awareness of feelings and thoughts which allows for more positive decision making, better interpersonal relationships, and enhanced self-efficacy. Due to these reasons, there are significant mental health benefits from engaging in regular physical activity as it can impact various aspects of daily life including sleep, mindset, decision-making, and social relationships.
FITNESS BETWEEN THE EARS
To receive the mental health and emotional well-being benefits of regular physical activity, it is important to follow the general physical activity guidelines for Americans set by the US Department of Health and Human Services. According to these physical activity guidelines, healthy adults should perform at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous exercise. Similarly, adults can choose to engage in a combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity that equates to these guidelines.
It is recommended that resistance training is also incorporated into this routine. Adults should engage in musculoskeletal strengthening exercises of at least moderate intensity at least 2 times a week. Although these are general adult guidelines, there is a benefit to starting small as well and incorporating some degree of regular physical activity. If someone is currently not engaging in any exercise, starting even with one to two exercise sessions a week can make a profound impact on emotional wellbeing. To summarize, there is a mental health benefits from engaging in any amount of exercise.
Achieving the recommended quantity outlined above per week simply enhances this benefit. The most important factor is setting a regular fitness routine that fits one’s lifestyle and then being consistent with this routine.
WHAT FITS TO STAY FIT
When considering which exercises to include in an exercise program designed to boost emotional wellbeing, it comes down to personal preference. Exercise programs and routines are not a size fits.
Whether you choose to perform HIIIT workouts, sign up to take classes at a yoga studio, or walk outside each morning, there are mental health benefits associated with each. From an overall health perspective, a balanced exercise routine should include a combination of cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and flexibility/ mobility exercises. Additional mental health benefits can be experienced if an individual also incorporates mind-body-related exercise formats such as yoga, Pilates, tai-chi, or qigong.
Incorporating mind-body formats like these can enhance the emotional well-being benefit of exercise because these modalities incorporate specific breathing patterns that help activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Activating the parasympathetic part of the nervous system helps boost relaxation and reduces stress which supports and enhances emotional wellbeing.
Ultimately the approach and mindset utilized while exercising are more important than the specific formats or exercises chosen. What this means is that while exercising it is important to remain mindful and present to the experience. Remain mindful of the unique personal motivators that encouraged the choice of a specific type of physical activity.
While performing the exercise session, focus on enjoying how it feels to move the body in space. Pay attention to the positive feelings and sensations experienced both during and after an exercise session. Similarly, consider your exercise environment. One’s environment plays an important role in how an exercise session is experienced. Consider going outside to get fresh air, or exercise in nature or at a local park. Choosing to engage in calming or positive environments like these can only enhance the mental health and stress-reducing benefits of exercise.
KEEP IT GOING
Another important factor in receiving the mental health benefits of exercise is consistency over time. One way to be consistent with exercise is to find a routine and exercise modalities that you enjoy. Choosing to engage in exercise formats that you enjoy will not only help enhance the mental health benefits of an exercise session but also help you stay consistent with your routine. If someone is just establishing an exercise routine, remember to start small and set a realistic and attainable amount of exercise that can be accomplished and sustained over time. Build frequency and duration using the SMART goal framework.
Make the goal specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time specific. Research shows that goals set using this SMART goal framework led to more successful and effective outcomes. Once you establish the routine that works for you, utilize social support to sustain this consistency. Share your intentions with friends and family and lean on them as needed to stay connected to motivating factors and remind yourself of your commitment to your emotional health.
Lastly, another way to remain consistent is to focus on the process and experience of exercise versus just thinking solely about the results. Individuals are much more likely to commit to exercise over time when they enjoy the process of getting to their goal versus only thinking about the outcome they are seeking.
Overall, engaging in a regular exercise program has an array of mental health benefits that enhance one’s emotional wellbeing.
Find NASM's blopost here: https://blog.nasm.org/fitness-emotional-wellbeing