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Moving around and clearing it out

You’ve probably heard by now about the link between exercise and mental health, yeah? I mean, the fact that moving around makes you feel good? Seriously, you haven’t? Get out there and Google it, ya fool! This is serious stuff. I’ll wait.

See what I mean? I’ll bet the results for your search covered scholarly articles, pop sci articles, LIVESTRONG articles; even the Wikipedia page on exercise mentions its benefits for the mind. This is real stuff, not your Uncle Stan’s “walk it off, son” kind of advice. Even if you don’t have any reason to worry about your mental health, if you’ve never worried about anything ever or never bumped around the jumping castle of misery that is depression, exercise will help your mind. It improves concentration and sleep, and those are two things most people would like a bit more of.

So I love exercising. I do yoga, I do a little weightlifting (very little), I ride my bike from the car to work (free parking isn’t to be sneezed at, even if it’s a few kilometres away from your destination), and I go walking whenever I can, as long as I can. Say the word ‘walk’ and watch me perk up. A lunchtime walk has been a part of my day for a couple of years. I’m lucky in having a workplace smack bang in the middle of some beautiful hilly walking turf, but even when I didn’t, a walk was part of my day. I love the sound of my blood swooshing around, I love the bass kick of my heart when I’m smashing a hill, and I love the taste of fresh air. The months recovering from each round of hip surgery (I had hip surgery in September 2011 and then had the other side operated on in October 2012) were strictly no-walking zones, and living with a chronic illness and its various effects on energy levels means that I can’t always move the way I want, as much as I want. But moving around, even if it’s just slow stretching and a circuit of the back yard, is crucial.

A recent mysterious leg injury ruled out walking for some weeks. The injury was never pinpointed, apart from identifying a few very defensive and clenched-up muscles that needed some regular easing out through brutal physiotherapy massage, and is subsiding.

I was touchy, tense and stressed, and it was driven home to me how important moving around is to my mental health. I’ve been working a fairly stressful job while my workplace struggles to get replacement staff to fill unexpectedly open positions. There’s a family history of depression, sleep disorders, and other chronic health conditions that I would like to keep at bay. Without that burst of movement in the middle of my (fairly stressful) working day, I wasn’t breaking the thinking patterns of anxiety and unhappiness that were building up over the course of the working hours. I could go outside and have a sit down under a tree, and that helped a little—but not nearly as much as moving around.

Thankfully, my leg is easing up and building up strength: walks are back on the agenda, and the longer the better (provided prudent stretching before and after).

Lesson learned: keep moving around. We can talk about the long-term stuff later (the extended lifespan, the lowered cholesterol and blood pressure, the improved cardio-vascular health, the reduced risk of various age-related conditions, etc.), but the most important and upfront thing about moving around is clearing out your head and making you feel better, right away.

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