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Healthy coping through exercise

People struggling with mental health are tired of seeing exercise touted as the easy solution for their mental turmoil. I too was tired of hearing this advice because I was a self-proclaimed exercise hater.

However, one of the best habits to develop is exercising regularly, it not only benefits your physical health but also your mental health.

I dreaded engaging in exercise because I had not been preconditioned to enjoy it yet. Forming a habit usually takes somewhere around 66 days on average.

The time it takes to develop a habit hugely depends on the activity in question. To increase the odds of consistency, choose a type of exercise you genuinely enjoy.

For me this was the missing piece of the puzzle. Gyms began to reopen earlier this year and one afternoon my roommate asked me if I would like to go to his bouldering gym.

This gym was unlike any other gym I had ever been to. It was fun and interactive with an amazing sense of community. I quickly found myself spending upwards of 10 hours a week bouldering. I found that choosing an activity with noticeable progression helped me stay motivated.

The Student Recreation and Wellness Center
CSULB Student Recreation and Wellness Center Photo credit: Sebastian Perez

I could see myself improving daily and it was fun to climb with friends–motivating and challenging each other. This improved my social life and self-esteem, an important factor in mental health. The rigorous climbing elevated my norepinephrine and serotonin, improving my concentration and focus. The intensity of the climbs would provide me with so much dopamine my overall mood improved.

To offset the intensity of bouldering I started doing yoga and calisthenics, both of which I found remarkably effective in relieving stress. Stretching relieves tension in the body and promotes better sleep. These slow calming exercises also improved my attention and helped to reduce anxiety.

Exercise has been linked to reductions in depression, anxiety, ADHD, and stress. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that in some cases exercise can be more effective than medication.

Exercise can be a great intervention to sedentary hazardous activities such as substance use. A 2011 study, demonstrated that exercise can decrease drinking in college students. College students have higher than average heavy drinking rates.

Stress also leads to trouble sleeping, something that college students may already be aware of. Additionally, stress combined with poor sleep habits could result in poor cardiovascular health. Regular exercise helps establish better sleeping routines and combats stress.

School along with life can be stressful, if you are struggling with your mental health consider developing an exercise routine full of activities you enjoy. It can be swimming, rollerblading, hiking or going on long walks.

Your body will feel better and so will your mind. If it’s something you can do with friends, even better.

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