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Exercise: The Wonder Drug

Updated: May 10

The Importance of Body Movement from a Holistic Wellness Perspective

Body movement and exercise as medicine

Are you aware of any treatment that can simultaneously: balance mood, improve sleep, reduce stress, balance hormones, boost confidence, improve brain function, target digestive problems, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce risk and improve survival for cancer, regulate blood sugar, protect against osteoporosis and fractures, and promote weight loss?

I’m gonna be that annoying gal that says, “I am. It’s called ...exercise.”

We all know body movement is “important,” but I’m not sure I, a former D1 athlete, practitioner, and coach knew just how powerful it is for our mental and physical health until I started digging into the research.

Body Movement and Mental Health

A recent study done by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found body movement equally as effective in treating mild-moderate depression and anxiety as prescription medication and states it should be considered as a primary treatment.

Dr. John Ratey says in his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, that most prescription drugs used to improve mental health target one or more of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Exercise also has a profound effect on balancing these neurotransmitters without any of the negative side effects such as weight gain, nausea, and low libido.

Dr. Ratey also discusses the profound effect of body movement on other aspects of mental health such as mental sharpness, anxiety, depression, ADHD, addiction, mood swings, hormonal balance (PMS, PPD, pregnancy, and menopause), and aging.

Body Movement Types and Their Benefits

What are the different body movement types and their evidence-based benefits:

Mindful movements (Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, group stretching):

Cardio/High-Intensity Interval Training:

  • Improves: weight loss, HDL (good cholesterol), self-esteem and mental health, brain function, blood sugar regulation, lean muscle mass, and strength, and strengthens bones.

  • Decreases: visceral fat, LDL, blood pressure, low back pain associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia, & risk of fracture and osteoporosis

Type and Frequency of Exercise

Different forms of body movement are going to be useful for achieving different goals. For example, studies show that resistance exercise had the largest effects on depression, while yoga and other mind–body exercises were most effective for reducing anxiety.

There isn't a one size fits all approach, however I recommend that you incorporate a combination of the three forms of movement each week to reap the wide range of benefits each one can give.

A good formula is 2 days of cardio/HIIT, 2 days of resistance training, and 2 days of something restorative like yoga, mindful stretching, or walking. Aim for 20-30 min/day. You can also work with a trainer or wellness coach to customize a plan specific to your health goals/needs.

Remember that the best exercise plan is the one that you will do. Start small and build.

Knowledge is one thing, find the motivation and time to implement body is another. How do we get into a rhythm of exercise or get to the point where our bodies crave movement when we miss a few days? I came up with 10 mindset shifts to get you started when approaching exercise.

10 tips to improve daily body movement:

  1. Set Realistic Goals: Start by setting achievable goals that align with your current fitness level and schedule. Gradually increase intensity and duration over time to avoid burnout or injury.

2. Find Activities You Enjoy: Engage in physical activities that you genuinely enjoy, whether it's dancing, hiking, swimming, or playing a sport. When you enjoy what you're doing, it's easier to stay consistent and make exercise a habit.

3. Prioritize Consistency: Consistency is key when it comes to reaping the benefits of regular exercise. Aim for daily movement, even if it's just a short walk or stretching session. Consistency builds momentum and helps your body adapt to the positive changes.

4. Incorporate Functional Movement: Functional movements mimic real-life activities and promote overall strength and mobility. Include exercises like squats, lunges, and push-ups that engage multiple muscle groups and enhance everyday movements.

5. Make Movement a Priority: Schedule dedicated time for exercise in your daily routine. Treat it as an important appointment and commit to it. By prioritizing movement, you'll be more likely to stick to your exercise regimen.

6. Embrace Active Breaks: Instead of sitting for prolonged periods, take frequent active breaks throughout the day. Stand up, stretch, or take short walks to break up sedentary behavior and increase blood circulation.

7. Buddy Up: Find a workout buddy or join group fitness classes to make exercise more enjoyable and hold yourself accountable. Exercising with others provides motivation, support, and a sense of community.

8. Track Your Progress: Keep a record of your workouts and track your progress over time. Monitoring your achievements, such as increased strength or improved endurance, can boost motivation and help you stay on track.

9. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to your body's signals and adjust your exercise routine accordingly. Rest when needed, and don't push yourself beyond your limits. Honor your body's need for recovery and avoid overtraining.

10. Celebrate Non-Scale Victories: While weight loss or physical changes may be motivating factors, also celebrate non-scale victories. Notice improvements in energy levels, mood, sleep quality, or stress reduction. Recognizing these benefits reinforces your commitment to regular movement.

My hope is that 1 or two of these will resonate with you and motivate you to lace up those shoes and experience the wonder drug that is consistent body movement! If you've taken nothing else away from this, let this one stick with you: no other drug or treatment will give you as many benefits as simply moving your body daily will. Make it a priority and experience the long and short term benefits of what is exercise!


CEO, FNP, Functional Wellness Coach

Wellness with AO

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