NMC Employee Wellness Monthly Mini Challenge

September 2015

Wellness Works! - Get Happy - Exercise your way to well-being

Most people associate happiness with positive emotions like optimism, purpose, life satisfaction and a sense of well-being. Regardless of how you define happiness, research shows it plays a powerful role in your overall health. Your most important tool for boosting happiness may be the most obvious – exercise. A landmark study that reshaped the connection between exercise and well-being (Blumenthal et. al. 1999) found that a group program of aerobic exercise – three supervised 45 minute sessions/week of cycling or walking/jogging at moderate to high intensity for 4 months – was just as effective at treating depression as was Zoloft, or even a combination of exercise and Zoloft. Even after six months, participants who recovered were less likely to relapse into depression if they were part of the exercise group (Babyak et. al. 2000). Some researchers theorize that exercise acts as a distraction from negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression. Regular exercise also boosts self-confidence and self-esteem. Basically, when you feel good you look good.

How does it work? Exercise has been shown to spur neurogenesis, or neuron regrowth, particularly in the hippocampus, a portion of the brain associated with memory, learning and regulation of emotions. It also releases feel good brain chemicals like endorphins and endocannabinoids. Exercise increases the bodies core temperature promoting a calming effect and reducing immune system chemicals that worsen depression (Mayo Clinic).

How much exercise do you need to spark happiness? The Mayo Clinic recommends at least 30 minutes, three to five days per week. Some people have trouble starting and sticking with an exercise routine. Here are some steps to help you get started and stay motivated:

  • Identify what you enjoy doing. Figure out what type of physical activities you're most likely to do, and think about when and how you'd be most likely to follow through. For instance, would you be more likely to do some gardening in the evening, start your day with a jog, or go for a bike ride or play basketball with your children after school? Do what you enjoy to help you stick with it.
  • Get your mental health provider's support. Talk to your doctor or other mental health provider for guidance and support. Discuss an exercise program or physical activity routine and how it fits into your overall treatment plan.
  • Set reasonable goals. Your mission doesn't have to be walking for an hour five days a week. Think realistically about what you may be able to do and begin gradually. Tailor your plan to your own needs and abilities rather than trying to meet unrealistic guidelines that you're unlikely to meet.
  • Don't think of exercise or physical activity as a chore. If exercise is just another "should" in your life that you don't think you're living up to, you'll associate it with failure. Rather, look at your exercise or physical activity schedule the same way you look at your therapy sessions or medication — as one of the tools to help you get better.
  • Analyze your barriers. Figure out what's stopping you from being physically active or exercising. If you feel self-conscious, for instance, you may want to exercise at home. If you stick to goals better with a partner, find a friend to work out with or who enjoys the same physical activities that you do. If you don't have money to spend on exercise gear, do something that's cost-free, such as regular walking. If you think about what's stopping you from being physically active or exercising, you can probably find an alternative solution.
  • Prepare for setbacks and obstacles. Give yourself credit for every step in the right direction, no matter how small. If you skip exercise one day, that doesn't mean you can't maintain an exercise routine and might as well quit. Just try again the next day. Stick with it.

Babyak, M.A., et al. 2000. Exercise treatment for major depression: Maintenance of therapeutic benefit at 10 months. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 633-38.
Blumenthal, J.A., et al. 1999. Effects of exercise training on older patients with major depression. Archives of Internal Medicine, 159 (19), 2349-56. 

September Challenge: Happiness Quiz. 

Go to the website below and take the happiness quiz. Send results to me at: mtalicska@nmc.edu  by October 5th. Two people will win a $20.00 Oryana gift card.


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