Wellness means something different to all of us. To some, it is about being knowledgeable. To some, it is about family, friends and relationships. For others, it is a career or financial situation. Most people think of physical health when it comes to wellness, but do they also consider their mental health? It is important to consider the connection between physical and mental health and understand the effect that one has on the other. It is hard to feel well if one’s physical and mental health is not in balance. Just as people need to work to balance external factors — career and family — they also need to work to balance internal influences — mood, nutrition and amount physical activity or inactivity.
Wellness is not simply the absence of illness. Everyone can strive for wellness. Working toward increasing your daily activity level can have a positive effect not only on your physical health, but also on your mental wellness.
Studies show that exercise can be helpful in addressing mild to moderate depression. Exercise can be a powerful depression fighter. It promotes positive changes in the brain, releases endorphins, which are known to trigger positive feelings in the body, and acts as a distraction agent helping to break a negative cycle of thinking.
Consider exercising in a mindful manner. Take the time and effort to notice the sensation of your feet striking the ground, the rhythm of your breathing, the feeling of the sun on your face or the quietness around you. Focus on your body as you exercise, how you feel, physical stress points and exertion levels. Not only will you improve your physical condition but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of negative thoughts and reduce anxiety levels. A large body of evidence suggests exercise can be a useful tool for managing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, such as insomnia, anxiety and depression.
While research has clearly demonstrated the benefits of exercise on mental health and wellness, it has not answered why it is so hard to get motivated and get moving. Determining your exercise style will help make a bit easier to implement and stick to an exercise routine. Are you an outdoors person? Consider, hiking Mount Nittany or Rock Run Trail and take a notebook and jot down the thoughts and concerns that are causing stress and anxiety. Are you a homebody? Get moving by taking a walk in your neighborhood or find a free YouTube exercise video and floor space within your home. Do you want company? Join a sports league or attend a local exercise class where company will abound.
Visit centremoves.org for an expanded list of community resources to help you find your exercise style. You may have extra challenges to implementing an exercise routine if you are managing depression or other mental health diagnosis, so please be sure to talk with your health and behavioral health providers to best incorporate exercise into your wellness plan.
Challenge yourself to find a balance of wellness in your life.
Michelle Henry is assistant administrator for Mental Health Services, Centre County Government, and Brandi Eslick is a mental health program specialist, Centre County Government.