Exercise for Sanity

March 16, 2015

Posted By: Shaunescy

Remember before we had kids, the idea we had of what having a baby would be like? Then remember how we realized we were completely unprepared for the intensity, vulnerability, rigorousness and relentlessness of it all? It’s worth it, of course. But still...

Although the baby phase is consuming, most of us are somewhat prepared for it. At least we think we are. We know there will be tears (ours and baby’s) lots of feedings, lack of sleep, diapers, etc. but we also know that this stage is fleeting. What I wasn’t prepared for is that the all- consuming demands of parenting never really go away. The needs are different but the constant barrage of someone needing something from us just doesn’t go away. EVER.

Now, instead of worrying about my toddler choking on something they picked up off the floor, I worry about my kids walking to school alone or navigating social dynamics all day with a bunch of fickle peers. I worry about homework, grades, sports, art classes, how much all of that is going to cost, dating, drugs . . . It’s endless. And so is the driving. Three kids in three different schools means an unbelievable amount of driving. I am constantly trying to remember schedules, after-school activities, doctor’s appointments, grocery lists – all while trying to work at my own job for those precious few hours a day when they’re all in school. My point is that it’s easy for us, as parents, to get lost in the shuffle.

Despite the chaos that comes with parenthood, no matter what age your children are, I don’t think it does us, or them, any favors if we don’t take some time for ourselves. In fact, it’s precisely because of the chaos that we need to make time for ourselves. Demand it, actually.

Exercise is key. It’s paramount. It is the ultimate sanity saver for me and most of my friends, especially as we get older. Of course we all want to be healthy and look our best, but the biggest reason I exercise is my mental health. It is the ultimate stress management tool.

Exercise increases serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which means it moves messages through our nervous system. Serotonin helps regulate mood, appetite and sleep.

Personally, I need all the help I can get in those three departments.

Higher levels of serotonin are associated with elevated moods, while lower levels are associated with depression. Of course there are many chemicals in our brain that influence mood but serotonin is one of the most important.

According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence of the United Kingdom, motor activity (aerobic exercise) raises the rate and frequency at which serotonin is “fired” in the brain, which increases both the release and synthesis of serotonin. In addition, regular exercise increases the tryptophan levels in the brain. (You know tryptophan, that feel-good amino acid in turkey that everyone binges on at Thanksgiving.)

The optimal amount of exercise needed to enhance serotonin synthesis in the brain is three hours weekly, or 30 minutes most days of the week.

Thirty minutes a day is 2 percent of our day. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to feel guilty about taking 2 percent of your day to do something for yourself. The other 98 percent can be taken up with work, children, relationships, etc., but we deserve to give ourselves at least 30 minutes. And, if we don’t demand that time, it often won’t happen because we are constantly pulled in so many different directions.

I know I am far more patient with my kids when I have exercised. Wine helps too, but in terms of coping mechanisms, exercise is the better choice for many reasons. I also want my children to know that I prioritize taking care of myself physically and emotionally. I hope they do the same as they grow up.

I have seen what it’s like to age in an unhealthy body. I have watched family members’ physical health deteriorate faster than it should (often because of lifestyle choices) and it’s heartbreaking. There are so many things that are out of our control but we should do the best we can with the things that are within our control, like diet and exercise.

We all want to be healthy for ourselves and for our children, but it can be hard to carve out time each day for exercise. Once you start and you began to realize the difference it makes, it gets easier and easier to find the time. Just start.

Adrienne is a photographer, blogger, vegetarian cook and recently became a health coach. If you would like more information about the services she can provide (such as meal planning, cooking classes and exercise programs) email her at adrienne@theveggiehouse.com .

More from Montana Parent

Thank You to Our Sponsors