“What is good for the body is good for the brain”. It’s a common adage that I typically tell patients, family, friends, or whoever will listen. I often discuss the positive impact exercise has on our ability to think—to learn and remember new information, focus, generate novel ideas, and be creative. Furthermore, exercise has positive impacts on mood, which can alleviate symptoms associated with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
In addition, individuals who are physically active are less likely to experience cognitive decline in older adulthood and have a lowered risk for developing neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. This is because physical activity increases oxygen to the brain which leads to the development of new blood vessels and brain cells. Moreover, exercise lowers the risk for chronic diseases that are associated with dementia such as coronary artery disease and hypertension.
Despite my own knowledge on the topic, though, while writing this I realized that I hadn’t exercised within the past 24 hours. Or even within the past 48! It made me think—even though many of us are well aware of the positive impacts of exercise—it can be so difficult to actually get going! Maybe it’s because our schedules are filled to the brim. Or because we feel out of shape and are worried about how we may look to ourselves or others when we finally get back to it. Financial and other logistical barriers can also be limitations, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking from my own experience, it can often be easier to find reasons not to exercise than to follow Nike’s instructions and “just do it”.
If you are struggling to exercise, these strategies may help:
- Break your goal up into small chunks. If your goal is to be able to run 2 miles, start where you feel comfortable and work your way up to that. For example, start by running a half mile a couple times per week and then increase your mileage by a half mile each week after.
- Get an “accountabilibuddy”. A friend or loved one with shared goals can be a companion to exercise with, which can be a motivator to show up even on days where it feels difficult to get going. If this is difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an accountabilibuddy can still be helpful to touch base with by text or calling to keep each other accountable.
- Don’t overdo it. Overexertion may lead to excessive soreness and fatigue, which could lead to being less likely to return to exercise the next day.
- Finally, find an exercise that you enjoy! If running isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to get your blood pumping including dance, walking at a fast pace, and high-intensity interval training. Many online courses are currently available currently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the jury is still out on how much and what type of exercise is best, current CDC guidelines suggest 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity for adults 18 and older, with at least 2 days a week of activities that strengthen muscles. Whatever form that may take for you, the most important thing is that some activity is better than none, so get out and start somewhere!