“Exercise is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states”
It seems many of those who fret over their state of mind are also those who neglect their bodies too.
Now this of course is not true of all, but in my experience those who often feel anxious and prone to panic attacks aren’t in the best of shape either.
‘Sausage bodies’ as a friend of mine likes to harshly (but probably correctly) put it.
When you have days on end of constant anxiety and depressing thoughts the last thing you want to do is to exercise.
It just seems like another stress to endure.
Except that’s not the truth.
There is nothing quite as powerful as a regular cardio and/or weights routine to reduce your negative thinking.
Feelings of anxiety and panic do not stand a chance once you are in the middle of a full-on training session or game of sport.
I used to start 90 minutes of football feeling anxious about the game ahead. Yet within 10 minutes the channeling of my concentration, energy and focus meant that not a single dark or anxious thought had chance to enter my mind.
By the end I felt I could take on the world, the smile on my face and bounce in my step was clear to see.
But therein lies one of the major issues with anxiety and panic. It seems they are very cunning at stopping you doing exactly the things you require to beat them.
Not only do they make you feel so bad, but they also sap all motivation to go and do anything.
You can spend hours on end at home sitting around and doing very little. What you do do is often never worthwhile, never productive. A lot of that comes back to: if you never try, you’ll never fail.
The problem with that is, failing is easy, everyone can do it.
Pushing yourself to take up a new challenge and succeeding, now that is worthwhile.
It’s even better if it’s something active, something to get you out the house.
Take up a sport you used to play, try a new one or simply get down the gym and lift some weights.
You’ll likely be amazed at the difference it can make.
How can exercise help?
Exercise literally blows the negative thoughts from your mind, but not only that, it makes you feel better afterwards too. It will also build your confidence, self-belief and feelings of self-worth.
Another benefit is helping you with your feelings of panic.
You’ll get used to the pounding of your heart, but unlike before when that sensation was normally met with a feeling of doom, you’ll feel exhilaration instead.
Your mind knows there is a good reason for why your heart is beating so fast.
“What?! No need to panic?“, it will think, “there’s a real reason to have my heart beating this fast!’
When you first start you will need to take it slowly. Many often confuse their elevated heart rate after exercise with the fight or flight response and may start to feel panicky.
Just don’t go all out first session and you’ll quickly get used to it and will begin to enjoy the sensation more and more.
It will make you feel alive!
So why is this?
Panic and anxiety thrive when you are sedentary, and grow stronger everyday that you are inactive and without drive and direction.
You know deep down you are allowing anxiety and fear to limit your life and prevent you reaching your potential. Your subconscious knows this and creates the thoughts which make you suffer.
Thankfully you have something at your disposal that is a thousand times more powerful.
Something that can increase your mood everyday and last a lifetime, but best of all it isn’t expensive and can be done on your own terms.
All it requires is discipline and a commitment from yourself.
By committing to an exercise and training routine you can make visible changes to your body which make you feel proud of what you have achieved.
But don’t confuse this with vanity, this is about building a stronger self-belief.
Although it does have a double effect because it’s true, when you look good, you feel good too.
You will stand tall and feel a confidence coursing through your veins.
Ultimately, it helps melt away your negative thoughts and gives your mind a solid platform to make progress forward in your life.
How do I know this works?
The reason I’m sat here writing this post today is because I’ve just got back in from the gym.
It’s a Friday night and after finishing work I had no real plans.
Knowing it was going to be an uneventful evening sat in alone I started to get those pangs of anxiety and my mood began to drop.
That old feeling of lethargy crept in and my motivation to go do anything was quickly fading.
Thankfully nowadays I am able to spot this happening very quickly.
I knew exactly what I needed to do, I needed to get out the house and get some exercise.
After less than an hour in the gym I was on my drive home again. I’d pushed myself hard and my muscles were aching, but there I was with a huge smile on my face – it felt great.
I knew once I got back home I didn’t want to mope about for the rest of the evening, I needed to do something.
That simple act of exercise had raised my mood and motivation through the roof.
So as soon as I got in I sat down and started writing this post.
It’s a few hours later now, but that one action of spotting my mood change and deciding to hit the gym has now transformed my whole evening.
I now feel positive and upbeat, writing this means I’ve accomplished something with my time too.
It sure beats being sat home alone with only your thoughts to keep you company!
So what exercise should you be doing?
Not all exercises are equal and only certain types have the power to stop your thoughts in their tracks and create the positive effects afterwards.
Any exercise you undertake must get your heart pumping and require complete concentration to such a degree that your mind needs complete focus to achieve what you are doing.
Put simply, if you can talk whilst doing it you’re not pushing yourself enough!
The best exercises you can do are as follows:
- Cardio – this includes running (not jogging), spinning (not going for a cycle ride, unless it has hill climbs), high intensity interval training (HIIT) and crossfit
- Sport – this includes football, basketball, squash, tennis, rugby, hockey and netball – anything that is non-stop, requires stamina and has explosive movements
- Weightlifting – this includes body building, power lifting, crossfit and strength training
Each of these contribute to a stable and healthy mental state, but weight training goes that extra mile.
By lifting weights you are actually breaking your muscle tissues and causing them to increase in size as they grow and repair.
This puts a direct stress on to your nervous system, but a stress that your body can relish.
By having this stress your body has something else to focus on, something ‘real’ which it needs to do.
It doesn’t have time for the thoughts and worries you spend most of the day completely blowing out of all proportion.
When you are lifting heavy weights and pushing your body to your limits your mind is required in full focus too.
It’s literally saying ‘what the hell is happening here?’, ‘this is a serious stress on my resources and I need to focus as much as I can on it to cope’.
This is amazing, because now your mind really does have something to deal with and what you were thinking about before doesn’t stand a chance, it just disappears.
Weights for women
Women reading this may be thinking, ‘weight lifting is not for me, I don’t want to look like a man’!
I agree, muscular women do not look good, but a toned woman with a defined body does.
Out of the few hundred women who go to the same gym as me, the ones with the most slender and toned bodies are those who, before their cardio work, go and lift some weights first.
The (shall we say) larger looking women are those who sit idling on a bike watching what ever rubbish is on tv. They haven’t even broken into a sweat and are just waiting until the machines says they’ve burnt 250 calories so they can justify having a Mars bar 30 minutes later.
Unless you lift heavy, day after day, and eat 3000+ calories you will not bulk up.
Ladies, my advice is just do 20-30 minutes 2-3 times a week, push yourself hard and you will reap the rewards, both mentally and physically.
Weights for men
Guys who want to pack on some lean muscle will need to work out 3 – 5 times a week, lift heavy, go hard and then go home with a smile on your face from all the endorphins rushing round your body.
40-50 minutes is the maximum amount of time you need, stay focused, don’t chat to others. Get in, get out, make it part of your daily routine.
I’ve been weight training for the last 5 years now and it’s hard to put into words the positive gains I’ve made because of it.
Although I like the physical gains I’m getting, it’s the mental ones that I’ve benefited from the most.
My weightlifting regime
I lift 4-5 days a week, usually straight after work. I train as heavy as possible with good form and with low repetitions (4-6). I focus on nothing else but the exercise I am doing and I push myself as hard as I can.
45 minutes and I’m done, out of there and on the drive home I feel great. I have a huge smile on my face and am ready to face the day ahead.
It makes me feel like a man, strong and confident in my ability to face anything the day throws my way.
My cardio regime
I also try and get 2-3 cardio sessions in a week, I prefer these to be from playing sport, but if I need to I also go for runs to top this up.
I play football (soccer) 1-3 times a week and a game of squash.
When I go for a run, just like my weights, I go hard and get it done.
I run 2-4 miles in 15-30 minutes and I keep going til I can’t take another step at that speed (8 minute/mile). I then walk for 30-60 seconds to recover and go hard again.
It’s only when you push yourself that your body and mind respond, none of this 12 minute/mile jogging whilst chatting away with a friend.
Push yourself a little more each time and reap the rewards!
No matter what age you are or what shape you are in it’s never too late to start.
Start slow to find your level, but once there, make sure you push yourself.
Tell yourself I need this in my life. I have the drive and motivation to do this and to make a difference.
Building your body really does build your mind and help rid you of those negative thoughts.
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