Exercise and Mental Health

Exercise has many benefits, including lowering your risk of cancer and helping with your mood and mental health. Cancer exercise trainer Lisa Ross and psychologist Laura Howe Martin, Ph.D., offer some insight and tips to make exercise easier, more enjoyable, and more beneficial.


·       Freshen up your exercise routine. Look for new ways of being active by doing something you really enjoy. Find a sport you played in the past that you can connect with now. Create a great playlist that makes you laugh. Meet a friend or family member (if it can be done safely, of course). Choosing an activity that you like will make exercise fun and something you want to do!


·       Start small. Behavioral research encourages us to start with the first of a thousand small steps, because one positive step tends to lead to another, and another, and another. When we are working to form a new habit, any new habit, it is useful to start somewhere – anywhere! – and keep moving. Here are a few places to start:


o   Park farther away from the door.

o   Take the stairs every day.

o   Drink a glass of water before you drink coffee.

o   Walk 5,000 steps a day.

o   Get a standing desk.

o   Stretch or do five-minute yoga every day at noon.


·       Set health-related goals. It is important to have some concrete health-related goals for your exercise regimen, and not to tie it too closely to body shape, weight, or image. Those things are fleeting, and many who exercise solely for those reasons tend to drop out of their routine. Think about other markers of a “successful” exercise routine. Is it blood pressure? Resting heart rate? Feeling better? Being less anxious? Improved sleep? Simply feeling accomplished?


·       Even five minutes of exercise can make a difference. Exercise doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing to “count.” Any exercise is better than none, even if it’s five minutes! You can be moving toward the recommended amount of exercise for overall health; but, it’s a process, not perfection. Be realistic about your season of life and what your exercise goals are. If you are a busy, working parent, you need to make time to exercise; but it might not be the time for you to take up marathon running. Exercise is cumulative, so being active sporadically throughout the day still benefits you. The point is to do SOMETHING today. And then something a couple of days after that.


·       Find a time of day that works for you. Get exercise done early in the day if you can; check the box! If that’s not an option, a later workout still works! Research indicates that exercise before bedtime can be good for sleep. It is very person dependent. If you have trouble sleeping after an evening workout, consider working out right after work each day, so you can get adequate sleep. Routine exercise will make your body healthier and more balanced, which will also improve other routine functions like metabolism and sleep.


·       Make a plan. Look at your week and roughly schedule in your exercise plan. Where are the windows of opportunity to fit in exercise? Maybe it’s a five-minute walk at lunch. Or while you’re waiting at your child’s sports practice. Have a plan A, B, and C. If your plan must change, look for ways you can still be active in less time.


Looking for inspiration? Check out our YouTube playlist with a range of exercise videos.