Monday, December 20, 2010

The Gift of Exercise

My friend Mary* has been feeling stressed out and fatigued. She’s been complaining of low energy and forgetting things, like our appointment for personal training this morning. It’s the holidays, so its not uncommon. Trying to meet the family’s expectations by getting just the right gifts, decorating perfectly, while also trying not to disappoint our friends by showing up to all the holiday parties can extract a large toll on us.

Along with fatigue, Mary is surprised at how irritable she’s feeling. Even the things she usually enjoys, like baking cookies with her kids, test her patience. She has also been waking up earlier than usually with her thoughts spinning around her to-do list and what she may have forgotten. These are typical symptoms of stress. If you have been experiencing any of this, there are some things you can do to help yourself. One of the simplest ways is to move your body.

For Mary, since she’s already a member at the wellness center, I suggested she make the time to take a spinning class. The high energy cardiovascular bicycling workout will eat up those stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin, which may be contributing to her irritability. When she argued that she just didn’t have time for all that right now, I reminded her that exercising actually boosts her energy level, so she’ll have more go-juice to get all that Christmas shopping done. Also, there's a good chance all that stress will weaken her immune system and BLAM! she's down for the count with the annual bout of bronchitis.

When she wakes up early in the morning, I recommended she start the day with some simple yoga, nothing pretzel-like. Before even getting out of bed, she practices pelvic tilts, known as bridge pose. While lying on her back, she places her feet flat on the bed with knees bent, hip distance apart, with her arms along side her body, palms down. She gently lifts her hips off the bed and lowers them back down 4 – 8 times, trying gently to lift them a little higher now and again. Then, she rolls over into a sitting position, legs extended out in front of her. While sitting up tall on top of her sits bones (those two bony points at the base of your pelvis), she eases herself into a forward fold, resting her hands on her thighs and hinging forward at the hips. She can also place a couple of pillows on her lap and rest there for 1 minute, gradually building up to 3 minutes. This pose is very helpful if you have been dealing with sadness or depression, also common during the holidays.

If you don’t have a gym membership, you can get some cardiovascular exercise in by going for a walk in the park or around the block; about 30 minutes a day is ideal. If it’s too cold outside, go to a mall or a local department store and grab a cart. If your mobility is limited, there are simple chair exercises you can do like seated leg lifts, spinal twists and even just raising your arms over your head several times. There’s no excuse not to move, and it will bring you some of that holiday peace everyone is talking about and we all need this time of year.

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