Minimise anxiety: Exercise is self-care with an increased heart rate. Take care of your body, take care of yourself.

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I want to start this post with an ode to exercising. If you have read some of my past posts you will know that I suffer from anxiety and depression at times. I work very hard on myself to keep my feelings in check, and to jump in with restorative measures when I notice I am going off the rails. Luckily this doesn’t happen very often, and because I focus intently on knowing and understanding myself I am able to get myself back on track with minimal damage. One of the best restorative measures? Exercise.

Exercise has been part of who I am for as long as I can remember. I have always loved running, and have been doing it since I was deemed old enough to go out by myself. Running around the block then became running around the neighbourhood, and then running around the area. Although I will never run a marathon (maybe I shouldn’t say never, but definitely not in the near future) I will never stop training as if I am planning on running one. I have struggled with runner’s knee for almost 3 years now, and not even that can keep me off the road. You see, exercise has become a healing activity, and one that I will never stop doing.

Studies have found that exercise can combat depression more effectively than either antidepressants, taken alone or combined with exercise. Getting our bodies moving is not only good for your body, but for your mind as well.

A few suggested reasons for this include

• The release of feel-good endorphins

• Decrease of the stress hormones such as cortisol

• It gives you a positive outlet for your frustrations, rage and anger

• Heavy breathing increases the amount of oxygen delivered to your nervous system and muscles, which can calm the nervous system and enable you to think more clearly

• Exercise can be a distraction from something that is bothering you and gives you enough time to ruminate and find answers without focusing on the problem

• It makes your body strong, and when we feel our bodies are strong our minds tend to follow suit

• Improves your sleep quality and gives you more energy

Exercise is a powerful tool, and it can become even more powerful if you include it as part of your self-care routine. Self-care is all about taking care of yourself to ensure you have enough energy, life satisfaction and overall happiness to enable you to take care of others. Without self-care, you will only be an empty shell unable to be there for anybody, including yourself. When we think of the concept of self-care, we usually envision a bubble bath with candles and soft music. Or a snuggle on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea. But self-care is much more than that. It can be 5 minutes of silence, walking barefoot in the grass, taking a stroll through a park, having a heartfelt chat with a friend, or taking a gruelling 30min sweat class.

All of these activities have a few things in common:

• They are practically free;

• You can enjoy them almost any time of the day, any day of the week, and almost anywhere on earth;

• There are no restrictions other than being healthy enough;

• These activities and other similar ones have the power to ground you, to expose your inner self, and to allow you the freedom to grow.

Self-care is effective when you know yourself, your needs and your dreams well enough to be able to give yourself exactly what you need. Some days I know I need a gentle stretch, other days I know only a mind-numbing run will do the trick. Just like your body tells you when it needs certain nutrients and food groups, it also has the ability to tell you when it wants to move. Start listening.

Taking care of yourself is not selfish. It is the grownup, rational thing to do. And by adding exercise to your self-care arsenal you are only making it easier, and more effective, to refuel your own tank.