If you live where winter means snow, ice and mud, you may have avoided exercising, or may have been promising yourself that when spring comes, you will exercise regularly. Now is the time to begin! With spring right around the corner, you can’t afford to put it off any longer. And if you live where winter is just beginning, exercise will help keep you well through this dark season.
Any form of regular exercise holds the promise of increased energy and renewed vitality. For people who experience depression or other troubling mental health symptoms, exercise often helps relieve these symptoms, and leads to increased levels of wellness and stability. People have reported to me that, when they exercise, they sleep better, can think more clearly, have less nervousness and anxiety, feel happy and content more often, feel better about themselves, lose weight, develop strength, and enjoy a sense of well-being. Many people even report that they look and feel younger when they exercise regularly!
I have heard of doctors who prescribe an exercise routine instead of, or in addition to, medications. For people who can’t afford expensive medications, exercise may be one route to better health. Some have even referred to exercise as the cheapest and most available antidepressant.
First Steps to Starting an Exercise Program
Before you begin to exercise, call your physician and arrange for a physical examination if you:
Haven’t been exercising at all for some time and you lead a sedentary lifestyle;
Are over the age of 60;
Have a health problem or disability that might be affected by exercise;
Haven’t seen your doctor in a long time; or
Just feel it’s the right thing to do.
Ask your doctor to recommend, based on her or his findings, an exercise program that would be practical, safe and healthy for you. Your doctor may want to refer you to a physical therapist or another specialist for more information before making final recommendations, or so that she or he can help you to develop an exercise plan.
If you have been doing some exercise and know it is not enough, and do not have age, health or disability issues to address, begin your exercise program or your increase in exercise gradually. Your body adapts more easily to gradual change and you will miss out on all the aches and pains that come with too much exercise before your body is ready for it. A warm bath after you exercise the first few times will help to relieve those aches and pains that come when you inadvertently over-exercise.
Assess the exercise you have been getting—whether it is exercise for the sake of exercise, or exercise you get as part of your job or daily routine. For instance, if you walk up three flights of stairs each day to get to your office, consider that part of your current exercise program. Perhaps you have to walk two blocks from the train station to your apartment. Or you spend some time each day bending and lifting as you stock shelves. Maybe you spend time providing care for one or several active toddlers.