Exercise is a word that for some lights them up and inspires them and for others it can sound like nails on a chalk board. What if we were to replace the word ‘exercise’ with the words ‘mood booster’? You’ve heard it before; exercise can stimulate endorphins and dopamine in the brain contributing to a positive mood state. So why is it so hard to get up and get moving? Why does that one little word feel often like a chore rather than a fun, mood boosting activity? Perhaps we are setting ourselves up with a lot of expectations, shoulds, or even forcing ourselves to do an activity we don’t like. According to Dr. Jodie Lowinger there are many ways we can incorporate exercise into our lifestyle by changing the activity or changing out mindset. Here’s how exercise can boost your mood and lower stress:
Focus on the ‘movement’ rather than the exercise.
Lowinger acknowledges that we don’t need to spend hours and hours in the gym in order to have an effect. Use the word ‘movement’ rather than exercise to help eliminate any “guilt or shame that comes from preconceived ideas about having to be perfect at the gym”. Beginning a routine can also look like taking your training shoes out and putting them on and opening the front door. After a bit of time, it might feel silly to just put them on and open the door so you could begin with subtle movements out the door and walking around the block. Lowering says, “Small is better than not at all.”
Engaging movement with heart-driven and not fear-driven activities.
Often worry creeps in and we tell ourselves stories relating to self-worth. A common one is: You should do this to lose weight, you must run 10 kilometers, or you need to master every posture and pose perfectly in yoga or else you’re not worthy.
Try to find a movement activity that you enjoy and not because worry is telling you you’re not good enough if you don’t. It will be easier to stick with the activity if you enjoy it rather than forcing yourself to do it because you have to. Lowinger says, “Don’t pick activities such as running or lifting weights at the gym because you think that’s what you should do. Instead, pick activities that fit into your lifestyle, abilities and interests and think about how you can incorporate them into your movement routine.”
Be creative, try new activities, or add in a few extra movements in your day-to-day routine.
Try taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator. Break things up into little movement activities such as parking further away from the shops or carrying the basket of groceries rather than pushing a trolley. Set a timed alarm and take a five-minute stretch break at work. Build in a reward or something to look forward to like a delicious smoothie after your mood boosting activity. Watch a show or listen to a podcast or music while you move. Building up movement also creates little hits of dopamine and ultimately boosts our mood.
Do an activity with others.
Why not try a dance class or go to the driving range with a friend? Play tag with your kids or engage in a social hike or walk around the neighbourhood. Maybe try a new fitness app or class platform for movement in groups online. “Connection is a primary mood booster and working out with others can help to keep you motivated.”
Trying different activities and changing our mindset and expectations we might have about ourselves and our relationship to movement can be a great place to start. Start each day fresh and aim to add in daily consistency rather than a perfect workout. A little a day can go a long way. Pick movements or activities that are enjoyable for you and be kind to yourself. Think of each new day and each new step as something moving you towards boosting your mind, body and mood.
Lowinger, J. (2021). The Mind Strength Method: Four steps to curb anxiety, conquer worry & build resilience (pp. 222-229), Crows Nest, NSW: Murdoch Books. Mind Strength Method: Four Steps to Conquer Worry, Curb Anxiety and Build Resilience (fullersbookshop.com.au)