I remember the first time a friend told me that her morning run was as good for her mind as it was for her body. Indeed, the mind/body connection is reinforced every time we find ourselves feeling great following a workout – wherever it takes place. Without question, the chemical release that occurs as we exercise, and following our fitness endeavours, serves to steep us in a chemical tea of contentment, accomplishment and peace. Following physical activity, we think clearly, are more optimistic, grateful, positive and motivated. We FEEL good. We’re primed for change. It’s awesome.
In 2011, I had the great fortune of attending a conference in San Francisco, California where Dr. John Ratey presented on his 2008 book, SPARK, which, through its elucidation of cutting edge research, likened movement to medicine and espoused the importance of exercise for mental wellness and focus. All that are active intuitively understand this connection. Fast forward to present day, and the exercise / mental wellness link is less cutting edge but no less exciting. It seems almost universally accepted that mental and physical wellness are inseparable, and that exercise is a positive component of a comprehensive holistic wellness plan.
What is newer, is the increased focus on neuroplasticity. The clearing of our minds that occurs during movement and exercise can also provide the perfect opportunity for us to ‘rewire” our brains. Research in the area of neuroplasticity posits that, as we do and think differently, we change the physical structure of our brains. While exercising, we often find ourselves more open to possibility and creative thinking. For many, this creates a golden opportunity for new ways of thinking and ultimately, new ways of being. Exercise as a catalyst for neural change – how cool is that!?
So, lace up your shoes, slip into your swim suit, clip into your pedals or grab your dancing slippers… whatever it is that you do to move, get up, and get out there. Your mental health belongs to you. Perhaps, feeling a little better, a little stronger, a little more confident and creative exists on the other side of a workout!
Cory Donald is a Registered Psychologist and the founder of FORWARD Psychology & Wellness in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In addition to traditional office-based therapy, FORWARD combines the benefit of movement and talk therapy by offering year round, outdoor Run and Walk therapy. Therapy on the move! Run & Walk therapy does not require one be an athlete, an elite runner or walker – the focus is on the therapeutic component, and appropriate pace is mutually determined. For many, leaving the office and moving mindfully outdoors, working through challenges and developing solutions collaboratively, fosters growth, change, balance and accomplishment.