The physical benefits of exercise are well documented, but what we often overlook is the connection between physical movement and the wellbeing of our mind. Sometimes our body can react adversely to what our mind is doing – for example, we arrive home of an evening with a headache and stiff neck after a long and stressful day of work. On the contrary, we can make the most of our mind and body connection to improve our brainpower and sense of wellbeing on a day to day basis.
Exercise can connect us with our mind by disconnecting us with our day. Often when we exercise, we forget about the day’s frustrations and concentrate on the task at hand. Not only that but getting our body moving can also relieve stress by releasing endorphins, a neurotransmitter that can give us a ‘high’.
Endorphins are a great example of the physical connection between our body and mind. Many of us will finish a workout feeling high or ‘euphoric’. Endorphins have similar effects to morphine, so also act as a great pain reliever. If you find yourself in a bad mood, pop outside for some fresh air and a hit of endorphins to turn your day around.
With improved mood can come an increased feeling of energy. Some will say that despite the 5am wake up, they always feel increased energy after going for a run or hitting the gym (once again, thanks endorphins!). Improved cardiovascular health can allow us to have greater endurance to last through the day, leaving us not so tired when work is over. Additionally, the exercise can improve our sleep quality and duration, allowing us to have increased energy in the tank from the get-go.
Not only can exercise help to lift our mood, but it can also help to improve our memory. Studies have shown that regular aerobic (heart-pumping) exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain involved in memory and learning. This, coupled with some extra hours of sleep through the week is a great recipe for improved memory and mental performance.
A great beauty of exercise is that it comes in so many different forms, so how you get your blood pumping is up to you. Keep in mind that adults should be reaching at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.
Connection between intention and action
We’ve all been there – Monday rolls around and we have grand plans to make a change. We want to increase our exercise, clean up our diet, get eight hours of sleep a night or spend only 30 minutes on our devices. Despite our greatest efforts, our goals come to a grinding halt by Wednesday and we vow to try again next week. This can become quite a tedious cycle, so what can we do to make a greater connection between our intentions and our actions?
Dig down into why you are setting these intentions for yourself. “Because my physiotherapist said so” isn’t going to cut it for you when you return home from a long day and you just want to relax with your family. Why is it important you do your exercises? To increase your strength and decrease your pain. Why is this important to you? Maybe so you can be present and enjoy your time with your children more. This is what matters.
Set SMART Goals
Once you are clear on why you want to make a change, you need to set SMART goals to give you clarity on what needs to be achieved. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. An example might be “I will have hiked Mt Kosciusko without pain by the end of 2019”, or “I will be able to do three push-ups off my toes in four weeks”, or “I will consistently eat 5 serves of vegetables a day by June 2019”.
Break your goals up into chunks
Goals should be challenging, but can be overwhelming! It’s important that goals are broken up into “bite-sized chunks”, that are achievable. What can you do this week to help you achieve your goal in 6 months? Break your goals up into smaller, daily goals to help give you a sense of achievement while putting you on the right path. Instead of going from 1 to 5 serves of veggies a day overnight, start with 2. When that becomes achievable and habitual for you, work your way up to 3, then 4. It’s possible to break up just about any goal into several smaller, more achievable ones.
Once you have taken some time to think about how you can connect your actions with your intentions, write them down to hold yourself accountable. Better yet, let a family member or friend (or anyone know) what you are trying to achieve so that they can hold you accountable. Who knows? They might just be able to offer some help to get you there too.