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Taking Care of Mind and Body

Variety of Exercise Nourishes Physical and Mental Health

Hiking on the South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon                        Photo credit: Jon Gilbert

Physical Exercise

The dictionary defines exercise as “activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain and improve health and fitness.” There is an array of exercise  programs to choose from to improve health and fitness – from club memberships to apps to DVDs to YouTube videos. These programs help individuals to physically build muscle and strength, lose weight, increase flexibility, and much more. Sometimes people are medically required to engage in some form of physical exercise to maintain a healthy weight, and to manage diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other medical conditions. 

Some people find engaging in any form of exercise difficult for a variety of reasons. One reason might be finding time. Another reason might be transitioning from a sedentary life style to an active one. I am fortunate that I have always had a active life and have made time for physical exercise. The seed was planted when I began playing school sports in sixth grade – field hockey, basketball, and softball. I continued playing sports throughout high school. Running, jumping, hitting, catching, swinging, and sweating was part of my daily routine. 

Exercising Outdoors

Today my exercise routine comes in the form of training year round for my next ultra endurance run, hiking on trails near home and in our national parks, cycling, snowshoeing in winter snow, gardening in the spring and summer, raking leaves in the fall, and cleaning up other people’s trail trash at least one Sunday afternoon a month in the spring and summer. Most recently my husband and I began playing tennis. These are all forms of exercise that take me outdoors and keep me moving forward. My husband calls me a shark. I’m always moving.

I live with three chronic diseases but I don’t let them stop me from engaging in physical and at times, strenuous exercise. Keeping my legs moving while running, hiking, snowshoeing, cycling, walking, and playing tennis, and kneeling to dig the earth with my hands while gardening help keep my body limber, flexible, and physically strong. 

Mental Health Benefits

Research shows that exercise benefits mental health. My outdoor exercises afford the opportunity to be in nature. These opportunities lend themselves to a kind of meditation. These are times for me to be alone with my thoughts, to converse with God, to brainstorm my next story, to pray for the needs of others and my own, and to set my worries aside. Any anxiety and stress I may be experiencing is washed away. The physical act of my exercise routines pumps my heart, keeps me limber, and provides respite, good medicine, and nourishment for my mental health. Exercise in any form is physically and mentally healing.

Finding Time to Exercise Physical and Mental Health

Finding time to exercise need not be overwhelming. After all, there are 10,080 minutes in a week . Setting aside one hour a day or two hours every other day is doable. Substitute one hour of TV watching a day for some form of outdoor exercise, for example, a walk or a run around the neighborhood, or indoor exercise such as  yoga or walking/running on a treadmill. Make exercise as second nature as getting up in the morning and brushing your teeth. 

Whether you work full-time, part-time, work from home, or are retired, the minutes you have in a 24 hour day remain the same – 1,440 minutes. Plenty of time to exercise physical and mental health.  If you have children, include them in your exercise routine. Choose the time and days that work for you – morning, afternoon, evening, or weekends. The ball is in your court.

Keep Your Body Moving 

The end of one year is fast approaching. The anticipation of a new year comes with a sense of renewal and setting new goals. Now is the time to plan your approach to maintaining and improving physical and mental health in the new year. Whether you choose to exercise indoors or outdoors, keep your body moving and your endorphins flowing. Your overall physical and mental health will reap the rewards.

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