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HEART RATE UP = ANXIETY DOWN: HOW EXERCISE CAN HELP EASE ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION



By Lisa Kretchman


Approximately 1 in 5 Americans are affected by mental health conditions every year[1].  With depression and anxiety at the top of that list, we as a nation are continuously searching for new and more effective ways to better manage these health issues.  As support tools become more accessible, a coping mechanism that can easily be overlooked is exercise.


THERE ARE MANY CLEAR HEALTH BENEFITS TO EXERCISE


It builds strength, improves cardiovascular endurance, and aids in weight loss. But, did you know it can also be an important tool in relieving stress and treating depression and anxiety? 


Studies show that exercise releases feel-good endorphins.  These chemicals in our brain act as natural painkillers and can enhance our sense of well-being and help ease our anxiety, even improve our sleep[2]. Exercise, in a way, provides us with an opportunity to redirect our focus away from negative thoughts that may cloud our minds.  Exercise also has been shown to increase energy levels and improve mood, even boost brain health[3].


There are several ways you can help your employees make the connection between improving their mental health and exercise by increasing their access to exercise resources.


HERE ARE A FEW IDEAS YOU CAN TRY:


  • Implement walking breaks, or set a policy that allows twice daily 15-minute walking breaks during the workday.

  • Connect employees with fitness resources you have available or nearby – gym discounts, onsite fitness facilities, or even nearby trails and parks.

  • Offer incentives for gym attendance, or consider offering exercise contests or challenges such as step competitions.

  • Offer multiple opportunities for employees to exercise at their workplace. Consider onsite yoga classes, group fitness classes during lunchtime or an after work run club.

  • Invest in walking treadmills and consider offering flexible work spaces for your office to encourage movement during the workday.


Regular exercise improves confidence.  Being able to set and achieve small goals helps self-esteem that can motivate us to transfer a positive mindset into other areas of our personal and professional lives.  Whether it be a group fitness class, run club, or a routine trip to the gym seeing the same faces/meeting new people- all provide social interaction which can boost your mood and give you something to look forward to each day. 


Having positive people to encourage and support your exercise journey is key in helping manage your mental health. 



[1] Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-adults.shtml

[2] Exercise for Stress and Anxiety. Retrieved March 21, 2019 from https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety

[3] Exercise for Stress and Anxiety. Retrieved March 21, 2019 from https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety



ABOUT LISA KRETCHMAN

Lisa Kretchman is a Health Promotion Specialist for Blue Cross NC. She studied nutrition and has a background working with the health and fitness industry. Outside of work, Lisa enjoys spending time with family and friends as well as staying active through CrossFit and volleyball.

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