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Activity can improve mental health

October 26, 2013

When the girls were small, we had a DVD player in the car for road trips. One of the movies they watched most often was “Freaky Friday” starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsey Lohan (before she became scary). In the movie, a mother and her teenaged daughter get switched into each other’s bodies and comedy ensues. In one particular scene, the teenager — now in mom’s body — shouts at her mother, “You are a fun-sucker; you suck all the fun out of life!”


Know anyone that fits that description?


Some people exist under a cloud of negativity. They can be shrill, impatient, rude and downright annoying. I have been up close and personal with some major “Fun-Suckers” in my time and the one common denominator that I see is that they do not live an active and healthy lifestyle.


While much of a person’s outlook on life hinges on personality, heredity, upbringing or life situations, inactivity can compound things. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health, physically active people tend to have better mental health. Physically active people have higher scores for self-concept, more self-esteem and more positive “moods” and “effects.” When we are active and fit, we feel better about how we look, tend to get sick less with colds and flu, and perform better at daily living. Let’s look at the mental and emotional downside to being a couch potato.


— Physical discomforts: People who are sedentary suffer from many more aches and pains than those persons who are active and when we hurt we are not happy. Remember the last time your significant other was sick? In order to stave off the feel-bad blues, incorporate a good physical activity program, including stretching and cardiovascular exercises.


— Low self-esteem: When we don’t look good, we don’t feel good. A sedentary lifestyle not only causes us to pack on the pounds but actually can contribute to premature aging. Many of the changes that occur over time can happen from not getting enough exercise. Folks who find they do not look the way they used to tend to dwell on the negative in themselves and in those around them. By keeping physically active we can keep ourselves looking and feeling our best.


— Sleep deprivation: A lack of sleep can make even the happiest person turn cranky. Ever notice how children get when they are tired? As grownups, a lack of sleep can make for a long day. People who exercise regularly report being able to get to sleep faster and stay asleep. Just make sure you don’t exercise right before bed or you may have a tough time nodding off. In addition, recent studies show that a lack of sleep can also contribute to weight gain, which again will decrease your self-esteem.


— All work and no play: People who tend to wrap themselves up in work have a very hard time enjoying themselves. While work is important to put food on the table, it should not be the primary focus of your life. Make sure you have a healthy balance between work and play to keep your attitude a positive one.


— Mind games: In the same Surgeon General’s report, research points to physical activity contributing to intellectual fitness as well. Physical activity is linked with higher level of alertness and mental ability including the ability to learn. Children who participate in physical activity tend to do better than their peers who are inactive.


By adopting a physically-active lifestyle, you will look good, feel better and be much more fun to be around. Do yourself, your loved ones, friends and co-workers a big favor: Get yourself feeling better through physical activity.


Kathy Hansen has more than 25 years of experience in the health and fitness field and hopes she spreads more fun that she sucks it. She can be reached via e-mail at hansen02@srmc.org