Work It Out - Battling Anxiety and Depression

October 13, 2019 |
Photo of world famous Muscle Beach, located in the Venice Beach Boardwalk

There were many times in my life when I wasn’t exercising. I remember always being tired, anxious and short on confidence. I would describe myself as a ‘homebody’, which urban dictionary describes as a person who enjoys the warmth and simple pleasure of being at home. Having to leave my apartment to drive, walk, bike or take public transportation to then go tire myself out and have to commute back home was not something that excited me. I’d go to the gym at most twice a week. And to be honest, most weeks would see me going once even though doctors recommend working out three or four times. Nowadays, I exercise at least four times a week. What changed you ask? The ability to reward myself after each workout. I’d like to share with you the benefits of exercise, and a way to turn exercise into a habit. When I researched this topic, it proved to be one-sided. There is consensus by doctors and researchers that exercise is good for us. I would challenge you to find evidence proving different. They all agree that exercise helps to improve our happiness, memory and boosts our self-confidence. Thursday, October 10th was World Mental Health Day. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 18% of people in the United States ages 18 and older suffer from anxiety. That’s almost two out of every ten people you see. Exercise combats health conditions and diseases including depression, anxiety and high blood pressure, according to an article written by Mayo Clinic. Imagine how different the U.S. would look if fewer people suffered from depression or anxiety? There is a great TED Talk featuring Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki that goes over this topic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHY0FxzoKZE). I recommend watching it for learning the benefits of exercise on the brain and also for the palpable energy she brings. Here are some of the benefits of exercise she presented: Immediate effects: - Increased levels of dopamine and serotonin, both of which help with mood - Improved ability to shift and focus attention for at least 2 hours Long Term: - Produce new brain cells in the hippocampus that increases long term memory - Improved attention function - Strengthen areas of the brain susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases A lot of those benefits will help you and I achieve our goals. If we are going to accomplish the goals we have for ourselves, it would behoove us to exercise. An improvement of our attention and memory will not only help us with our work but also our relationships. Knowing those benefits doesn’t make it easier for you to get up and go to the gym. However, sometimes you don’t have to go to the gym. The time we are now living in gives us an app for almost everything. One of those everything categories is fitness. Guided workouts can be done from the comforts of your home. Home workout apps are plentiful but one that I can confidently recommend is Nike Training Club. They have exercises that range from a few minutes to an hour. Exercises that can be done directly after rolling out of bed, no equipment needed. If you’re like Kanye West and Nike is not your favorite company, there are plenty of other fitness apps to choose from and more coming out each week. Conversations with friends and family around this topic has taught me that the biggest issue with consistently working out is a loss of motivation. After suffering through much of the same myself, the solution that has kept me motivated is to reward myself after a workout. If you’ve ever read about developing habits you would have likely seen the cycle of Reminder, Routine, and Reward. Depending on my work schedule, I will schedule workouts in the morning before work, during lunch breaks when I am working from home, and after work, if I need to be in the office early. I put my workout schedule in my calendar app, set notifications and try my best to follow through. If something does come up, I make sure to reschedule the workout for another time in the day. Setting a goal to not miss a workout for two consecutive days has also helped keep up momentum. After working out, I always reward myself by drinking a delicious protein shake, playing a round of a video or mobile game , taking a selfie, calling a friend, or watching a youtube video. Of course, your rewards may be different but try to have rewards that are not harmful to your health. This exercise and reward loop will help enforce a beneficial habit. Anyone who has known me for a long time knows that I have suffered from anxiety. Put me in front of a group and my fight or flight response kicks in almost instantly and your boy MJ is sweating bullets. I was anxious to the point where I did not want to meet new people. Working out has helped with that tremendously. There is a sense of confidence now when I am in front of a crowd. ”Exercise in many ways is like exposure treatment. People learn to associate the symptoms with safety instead of danger," says researcher JA Smits in his paper ‘Reducing anxiety sensitivity with exercise.’ What’s next? I'm challenging you to work out with me for six months. Six months isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things. There will be respect for your time by not having workouts that go over 40 minutes. You only need to download a fitness app of your choice. If you would like to follow the exercises that I do, you’re more than welcome to follow along on Nike Training Club. The weekly workouts can be found at https://www.igobymj.com/todo/ or by clicking the ‘To-Do-List’ in the sidebar to the right. Alternatively, if you’d like to get up and do a few push-ups and body-weight squats, that is also cool. To be clear, I don’t believe that you should never go to the gym. If I wasn’t trying to save more money, I would sign up to my local YMCA. If you have the option and are comfortable with it, go. I’ve done many Nike Training exercises at the gym when I was a member and the equipment allowed me to more advanced workouts. This is a solution for the days when you don’t feel like going, when you want to quickly knock out a workout. Feel free to count on me going through these exercises with you. If you’re sweating and putting in work, rest assured that I am also sweating and putting in work with you. Together we can push each other into a happier life with less anxiety and better memory. Tag me on Instagram @I_Go_By_MJ if you want to share how you’re doing with me. The Mayo Clinic: “Remember to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have any concerns about your fitness, haven’t exercised for a long time, have chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.” Mayo Clinic Staff Article - https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389 Wendy Suzuki TED Talk - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHY0FxzoKZE Anxiety and Depression Association of America - https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics#