Exercise for Sanity

Going Mental

Exercise for Sanity,
Not Just Vanity

By Jordan Kuehne

Diana Berger was depressed.

Stressed about graduating and life after college, her senior year at Gonzaga University had taken its toll. One of the first things to fall by the wayside was her exercise routine.

“I was generally unmotivated,” the 35-year-old Rio Rancho resident recalls. “It was difficult to get myself out of bed every day.”

Diana’s weight ballooned 30 pounds before she finally had enough. After returning home to New Mexico, she made time to fit a rigorous workout regimen into her busy daily routine. Her mood quickly lifted and she hasn’t stopped since.

For 20 to 45 minutes a day, five days a week, Diana exercises in her own kitchen or living room and follows along with an internet streaming workout program. She tracks her workouts and dog walks with a wearable fitness tracker and separate smartphone apps. This has been her routine for almost 13 years, but it only took a couple weeks to notice a difference, and not just of the physical variety.

“Working out helps stabilize me mentally,” she says. “If it’s been a tough day, I’m dealing with personal issues or whatever, exerting myself brings those emotions to the surface and allows me to deal with them.”

Diana isn’t alone in this. Research shows that exercise has proven and lasting tangible benefits associated with improved mental health in women.

According to a 2011 study by the American Psychological Association, the link between exercise and an improved attitude is strong. Most women will likely experience a mood-enhancement effect within five minutes of completing moderate exercise. The effects of physical activity don’t stop there, however. The same study includes research that indicates exercise can help alleviate long-term depression and help increase focus.

“I always feel better after putting in the work. Always”Diana Berger

Researchers have also discovered that consistent exercise can aid in treating — and even preventing — anxiety. Faced with a fight-or-flight situation, women who exercise on a regular basis may be better equipped to control their emotions and tamp down fear.

“The positive effects of exercise on mental health can’t be overstated,” says University of New Mexico Assistant Professor Karen Gaudreault, who heads up the physical education program at UNM. “Most people don’t associate a workout with positive mental outcomes, but that’s exactly what tends to happen.”

But finding your way to a local gym every day isn’t exactly feasible for many busy moms or working professionals who have full schedules to juggle. How can you make it happen?

Technology can help. Smartphone apps make it easy to manage workouts, while wearable fitness devices help monitor and track results. Almost anyone with an internet connection can now find professional trainers to assist them online, many of them for free or minimal cost

Diana utilizes her own home as a workout center, using foam rollers, a step and rubber weights. If you want to go the more traditional route, many local gyms offer membership specials for the new year.

If that isn’t for you, trips to the local park with the kids or around the neighborhood with (or without) your dog can offer many of the same benefits, as long as you’re active for at least 20 minutes continuously.

The key is to make it a routine and keep going. It may take weeks to form a habit, but, as Diana found out, the immediate high after a workout is unrivaled.

“I always feel better after putting in the work. Always.”