By Dr. Niki Fitzgerald, Psychologist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
We've all seen the headlines about sitting being the new smoking. We know that we should be moving more to keep our weight, blood pressure and cholesterol in check, reduce our risk of developing diabetes and some cancers, and keeps our bones and muscles strong. But when just getting through a day can feel like an episode of the Amazing Race, the idea of adding one more thing to a jam-packed schedule can seem daunting.
As a working mom, I know the mental and physical juggling that comes with trying to balance my career and family life. That being said, since having kids I still make the time to run and swim and bike. I even took part in my first triathlon not so long ago.
I’m no superwoman. What I am is a clinical psychologist who knows how important the connection is between exercise and mental health. While exercise is fantastic for the body, it’s equally amazing for the mind. Research tells us that exercise can be as beneficial as medication and talk therapy for dealing with mild to moderate depression. For me, I find that psychologically, exercising feels like I am hitting my own personal ‘reset’ button.
Regular exercise also has a positive impact on diet and sleep, which is often disrupted and fitful when we’re under stress. The more stressed we are, the more likely we are to make mistakes or be prone to poor decision making.
And it has a positive impact on immune functioning: those who exercise regularly are less likely to get sick with colds and recover from them faster. With two young kids in daycare, I need a strong immune system to fight off all those daycare germs.
It even helps minimize the effect of aging - such as loss of muscle mass and decreasing metabolism. For those who say they don’t have time to exercise, I say I don’t have time not to.
Exercise is also good for your career. A 2004 study showed that employees who workout are more productive, are less stressed by their workload and are better able to manage deadlines. It also enhances learning, recall, and ability to focus and increases alertness and energy level, all of which are improve decision-making.
Exercise allows us to cope better with stress and to ultimately be more resilient. It makes you feel more confident, which impacts other people’s perceptions and first impressions of you.
Finally, I firmly believe that exercising makes me a better parent and allows me to be a role model to my kids and particularly to my daughter. As a result of seeing my husband and I train competitively, it has inspired our kids to put down their electronic devices and get active too.
So the next time you think about whether you should try and “find the time” to start working out, focus instead on all the ways exercise helps you in body and mind and just do it - the rewards you will reap will definitely make it time well spent!