Exercise isn't exactly a new concept. Fitness experts and your doctor have lauded the benefits of physical activity since time immemorial. First Lady Michelle Obama has brought exercise, especially for children and adolescents, into the national limelight with her "Let's Move!" campaign that celebrated its third anniversary with a visit to Chicago by the FLOTUS on February 28. While the physical benefits of exercise, such as good cardiovascular health and weight management have long been recognized, exercise also is a key contributor good mental health.
"There's indisputable research to support that exercise has a strong benefit to improving mental health," says Lili Gray, Director of Adult, Family and Child Services at Jewish Child & Family Services (JCFS). "When you exercise there are changes in your body and your metabolism and in the neurochemistry in your brain that lowers your stress hormones and stimulates production of endorphins, chemicals in your brain that are natural mood elevators." Gray adds that there are emotional benefits to exercise as well, as one begins to see positive results. "As you see physical changes in yourself and achieve goals, your self-image and self-confidence can increase, and that has exponential benefits to mental health."
"The media is flooded with reports telling us that regular exercise is a good thing," says Ed Reed, Director of Community Counseling Centers at JCFS. And that's not just hype. "We know from mental health research that the first line of defense against depression is exercise," says Reed. So why is it so hard to get started or keep up a routine once one starts? "I think it is because many of us equate exercise with work, thus the term workout," says Reed. "If we focus on how hard it is our tendency is to stop the activity or not go back to it. However, if we are actually enjoying the physical activity we are doing, the equation changes. It is important to take the time to experiment with many different activities until the one that gives us the most enjoyment is found."
Our bodies need to move in order to function as they were designed and regular physical activity is key to maintaining both mental and physical health, and that's true for people of all abilities. To learn more about counseling and support, special needs camps for children and teens and inclusive recreation for all ages at JCFS, visit www.jcfs.org or call toll free 855-ASK-JCFS (855-275-5237).