Exercise: A nice-to or a need-to

Get 8 hours of sleep. Eat your fruits and vegetables. Drink lots of water. And exercise regularly. Simple, right?

 

These key messages have been ingrained into most of our heads since childhood, through a combination of lectures from our parents, plastering of glossy food-group charts in our elementary schools, and public campaigns such ParticipACTION. The media and our family doctors alike drill these messages into our heads again and again—this is what you need to do to live a happy, healthy, balanced, long life.

 

Most of us know we should adopt these as basic rules in our lives. However, for most of us even in the best of times—it’s hard to stick to all of these behaviours consistently, and for extended periods of time. In fact, data tell us that only about 5% of North American adults do.

 

In our technologically-driven, not-enough-hours-in-the-day society, prioritization of time and effort is a must. So, if you have to choose, what do you move to the top of the list?

 

Well, if you are a young girl or woman struggling with a mood issue, the answer is a no-brainer: exercise.

 

One out of 3 women will experience sexual assault or abuse by the age of 16 (more than double the rates for men). One out of five women will be impacted by violence in their intimate relationships. Women continue to bear the burden of childcare and eldercare responsibilities, even though they are becoming equal or primary breadwinners at exponential rates of increase. These factors contribute to women being up to twice as likely as men to experience major depression in their life. Conservatively, l out of 5 females will experience depression; newer data suggests the numbers may be as high as 1 out of 2. My personal thoughts, based on my clinical and anecdotal experience? All of us will at some point be impacted by symptoms of depression or anxiety that will significantly impact our quality of life in some way, shape or form for some extended period of time.

 

So, when it comes to improving women’s mental health, I put exercise at the top of the list.

 

A burgeoning body of literature underscores the beneficial impact that exercise has on our mood: releasing feel-good chemicals in the brain that operate as the body’s ‘natural antidepressants’; elevating body temperature (which can have calming effects on the mind and body); and reducing the release of harmful immune chemicals that can worsen depression.

 

In addition to these mood-enhancing benefits, exercise has a number of secondary impacts that also positively enhance mood: providing an outlet for socialization and interaction (after all, we are social creatures and we not only survive, but thrive when we have good, solid social supports around us); boosting our self-esteem and self-confidence; providing distraction from our day-to-day troubles and worries; and, enhancing our physical health. We know that our physical health is intimately tied to our emotional health, and that improvements in one area lead to improvements in the other.

 

It is for all of these reasons and more that I feel that public campaigns such as the Shoppers Drug Mart Ride Don’t Hide initiative are so absolutely fantastic.

 

I feel deeply passionate about the mission and values underlying Shoppers Drug Mart Ride Don’t Hide—we have come a long way in the last decade but still have so much further to go when it comes to breaking down the stigma that is associated with mental health. I extend a personal invitation to all my friends and family to register and become personally involved! Not only will your involvement in Shoppers Drug Mart Ride Don’t Hide support women’s health, but it is a way to publicly honour the millions of girls and women that struggle on a day-to-day basis, and provide accolades for the women that have been telling their stories of recovery and hope as a way to inspire others.

 

Learn more at www.ridedonthide.com and make a commitment to get involved in the Canadian Mental Health Association’s community bike ride supporting women and their families on June 23rd in communities across BC!

 

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