After what felt like an unusually long winter, summer is almost here in Colorado! For some, that means it’s time to get the kayaks back in the water and change out snowboards for mountain bikes. For many though, trying to find the energy to spend energy is draining to even think about. Why does it matter if we push through or give up? So many reasons!
Lately I find myself drawn to books and articles that discuss the link between movement and its effects on our brains. In her book The Joy of Movement, Dr. Kelly McGonigal suggests “physical activity influences many brain chemicals, including those that give you energy, alleviate worry, and help you bond with others. It reduces inflammation in the brain, which over time can protect against depression, anxiety, and loneliness.” The book explains that it’s not about physical fitness… it’s about movement. Specifically, it’s about muscles.
Imagine with me a sponge, full of water but not dripping wet. Once you squeeze it however, the water spills out. Like the sponge, our muscles have proteins and chemicals in them that secrete when we contract our muscles, which happens with movement. The movement can be walking, running, biking, dancing, weightlifting, and more. What’s incredible is that these molecules help with stress and depression and have been labeled “hope molecules.”
In an interview, Dr. McGonigal states that our muscles are “manufacturing antidepressant molecules and the only way to get them into your bloodstream, where they can then travel to your brain, is to contract your muscles.” She explains that it’s like having a pharmacy in our muscles, and as we contract our muscles the hope molecules get into our bloodstream and travel to our brain, where “they work as an antidepressant and they also help people recover from trauma.” Of course, medication is necessary for many people, and exercise should not replace medication. With a doctor’s guidance, however, it’s often possible to supplement medication with movement.
So, why outside?
Studies have shown that being outside increases our mental health. One of the most fascinating studies I discovered took place in Denmark. In it, the researchers used high resolution satellite images to explore how green spaces affected over 900,000 participants’ mental health. The conclusion was that if a child lived in a neighborhood with more green space, their risk of developing eating disorders, substance use disorders, depression, and even schizophrenia, decreased. In fact, in that study, out of those born between 1985 and 2003, the chance of developing a mental illness increased by 55% for those with the lowest green space exposure.
Although nothing compares to actually being outside, more good news is that if you can’t make it out, just watching videos of nature can improve our attitudes. (Interestingly, blue spaces like a lake or the ocean, are even more beneficial to our mental health!)
In another study, this one in South Korea, researchers looked at a group of adults who were in therapy for depression. During one month, a segment of the group walked through trees at the Hongneung Arboretum in Seoul before their weekly counseling sessions. At the end of the month, 61% were in remission, which was 3 times those who did not walk through the trees and experience remission. In Austria, a study was done where mountain hiking was added to the medical treatment of individual participants who had previously attempted suicide. The result was that there was a reduction in suicidal thinking and hopelessness.
The first step
Sometimes the biggest challenge of outdoor exercise is just taking that first step. For me personally, during some of the hardest times in my life I didn’t want to walk in the sunshine. I wanted to stay inside and cry, or binge watch TV to avoid thinking about the hurt, or I was just too emotionally exhausted to even walk to my mailbox. “It’s okay to not be okay” has become a popular phrase, and it’s true. In the Bible, King Solomon, known for his wisdom, says in Ecclesiastes 3:4 that there is, “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
While we are in the hard places in life, we might need to hunker down. Our self care might involve rest and crying and friends coming over to sit with us in our pain. It’s okay to not be okay. There is a time to weep. To mourn. And then when the time is right, we step out into the Colorado summer and take a step. The next day we take another step. Eventually we make it to our mailbox. We hike along the Santa Fe trail. We get on a bike and feel the wind on our face. It’s time to laugh. We turn on Praise Like Fireworks by Rend Collective and Everywhere I Go by Tim Timmons and we dance like nobody’s watching.
Wherever you are right now, Rock Your Family is here to walk beside you. If that means you’re too drained to leave your house, we offer Telehealth counseling and a willingness to sit with you in your pain. If you need a therapeutic setting and want to join us for in office sessions, we are here for you. And if you want to experience Walk and Talk therapy where you can contract your muscles while talking through life’s challenges, we have counselors who offer this as well. Rock Your Family is unique in that we have counselors experienced and trained in caving, rock climbing therapy, low ropes course, and more. Call to set up an appointment today!
Drop your favorite dance songs in the comments!
Here are some of mine:
- Sing Wherever I Go We the Kingdom
- Happy Day Crowder
- Crazy People Casting Crows
- Smile Sidewalk Prophets
- Amen Matthew West
- Celebrate Jason Gray
- Happy Dance MercyMe
- Thank God for Something Hawk Nelson
- Fruit of the Spirit Uncle Charlie