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IMR: Exercise as a Tool

One of my biggest concerns as a budding adult is freedom—both the feeling and the lifestyle of being independent. In some ways, the need to feel free still occupies my mind. It definitely did in my earlier years of college. So what did I do in our time of COVID (and before) to create freedom when I felt stuck?

I walked.

Well, it was more complicated than that. It was more like I walked as a way of playing pretend, like you might have as a kid. I pretended that as long as I walked, I could be free from my circumstances and my feelings. In a limited way, it worked. I did feel more liberated and happy (and sweaty) during and after. I didn’t think about the things I felt stressed out about. I used to follow a three-mile path down a beach, and then a six-mile circuit all around the suburbs nearby. In fact, I still take walks around the area where I live now.

Many people with any sort of mental illness or learning impairment can benefit immensely from regular exercise.

  • Walking or running regularly has been shown to reduce depression symptoms and lift your mood because of the endorphins produced by the brain while exercising.
  • Exercising mindfully alleviates stress and anxiety, giving some of the benefits of meditation without the need to sit still. Ever heard of a “walking meditation” before?
  • Physical activity often boosts production of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, all the feel-good chemicals that lessen ADHD symptoms, improving memory and concentration alongside mood.
  • Many people with PTSD or trauma have a sluggish or stuck-feeling nervous system, which exercise can help regulate. Paying attention to how the body feels in exercise, engaging mindfully, will be most helpful.
  • All-around, exercise can help with concentration, improve your working memory, give you more energy, help with better sleep, and build resilience.

Some people exercise not to alleviate symptoms, or as a form of escapism… Some people exercise for fun, or to keep healthy. It always helps when it’s fun! Still, I know personally, I usually go out walking or do physical activity for more of the prior reasons. Exercise for health? In this economy? If I end up healthy from exercising, I see that as a bonus!

And did you know you don’t need to schedule huge workouts to reap the benefits of exercise? As little as 5-10 minutes of exercise boosts your mood and builds heart health! Building the habit from a small amount of time and working up to 15-30 minutes is a good goal.

For most people, especially people with mental illnesses, working out in a gym is intimidating. There are about a thousand other ways to exercise that are fun, so finding what works for you and in your opinion is fun is Step 1. Everyone knows the magic power of going outside, especially in nice weather, or at least weather you like, so try going outside for a walk! Involving friends, family, or pets can also help. What matters is finding a little time to move your body and feeling better as a result.

I hope you all have an awesome Thanksgiving, if you celebrate, and I’ll see you afterwards with a new article!