Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Exercise and Your Mood

When I view the world I often view things in terms of fitness and wellness. Go figure. So when I hear in the news that people are becoming more stressed or when I see reports on depression I often think of how that relates to exercise and good nutrition - or America's lack of it. There is no doubt that stress plays a legitimate role in our life these days, its just part of life. Researchers have found that life without stress can be just as harmful as life with too much stress. A happy medium is the key - but just as important is how we handle that stress mentally, physically and emotionally. Going back to the way that I see things I feel that part of the problem for so many people is that we are not training the 'fight or flight' system. Exercising at the adequate intensity, between 65 and 85% of your maximum heart rate, is a great way to train the 'fight or flight' system. My clients who have made some big changes in their fitness by exercising correctly and consistently often mention that they feel more 'stable', handle work and life stresses better, they feel quicker and sharper mentally, and they simply feel great for hours after a great workout. All of these can be validated in study after study. Often the release of neurotransmitters (specifically endorphins, dopamine and acetylcholine) are cited as one of the main reasons for this. I find that one of the best motivators for getting your daily workout in is the mental aspect. If you put too much focus on goals like fat loss you might be disappointed. Obvious physique changes like losing weight take time - whereas the mental and emotional changes from exercise are immediate. I can tell you that there have been many workouts throughout the years where I was not in the best of spots mentally when I started - but as I left the gym I was reminded how powerful exercise is on my mood and mind... and even though I know this, each and every time I am reminded how powerful the effects are. My wife humorously and intelligently knows me well... if I ever seem to be a bit crabby she kicks me in the butt (figuratively most the time) and tells me, "go workout!"
The key thing is that the workout has to be challenging. It does not have be long in duration though. To get all the mental benefits you should stay within your recommended training zone. With our EDGE programs we set an exact and personalized training zone, but you can use a basic formula to get an idea of whether you are training adequately:

Subtract your age from 220 (220 - age)
Multiply that result by 70 and 85%
Example: 40 years old
220 - 40 = 180 beats/per minute
180 x 70% = 126 beats/per minute
180 x 85% = 153 beats/per minute
Training Zone = (126 to 153 beats/per minute)
And just as I have recommended in the past with interval training (for accelerated fat loss) you would use intervals: bouts of exercise that gets your heart rate to it's upper range followed by bouts of exercise that allows it to recover back down to its lower range.

Remember this when you are feeling too tired to hit the gym. Just think 30 minutes and get in your training zone. Think about how it will wake you up and 'lift' you up. Remember this whenever you are feeling out of sorts or when you feel the world seems to be coming down on you. In 30 minutes, with the right training intensity you will feel focused, directed and successful. Powerful stuff I know - and it works.


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