I spend a lot of time researching how to calm my anxious brain and there is no doubt that exercise helps to promote relaxation and balance; this is not surprising given the connection between the body and the mind.

Exercise is often prescribed for people with mental health problems; it is clearly crucial to both our mental and physical health. In the past, my exercise programme was never balanced; it was either a famine or a feast, but I do find that my symptoms are helped immensely now that I make time for physical exercise.  I’ve said it repeatedly, but the health of my body is a manifestation of choices that I have made along the way, I will no longer be a passive victim, I am now taking responsibility for my own health. Exercise does wonders for my physical and mental health and most importantly my Parkinson’s symptoms.

So, do you prioritise physical exercise? Are you physically fit? Are you happy with your fitness levels? It’s tempting to give up on the New Year’s resolutions at this time of year and to stay in a warm cosy house rather than exercise outside or queue for machines at an over-packed gym, however, our bodies are our homes on Earth, so we must manage our lives to allow time for exercise. Are you concentrating on one area of your life at the expense of exercise? There comes a point when you realise that things need to change…

Research shows that only 10% of illnesses are determined by genetics, 90% are lifestyle related; and so the importance of exercise cannot be overstated.   Exercise helps our immune cells to fight disease and infection, it improves heart health and inflammation, it also reduces our chances of being diagnosed with many cancers, osteoporosis, diabetes and even dementia.  Walking is one of the best things that I can do for Parkinson’s as it improves brain function and releases dopamine, which my brain has stopped producing. Walking outdoors, particularly in nature, can be a euphoric experience for me, I can be physically exhausted but feel totally alive!  

Exercise also greatly improves mental health; it boosts your mood and releases your happy hormones, it gives your brain a break from its stresses and to-do lists, it is a great way to escape and to deal with anxiety and depression.  Exercise helps to release negative emotions, to live in the moment and to be in a state of peace. Taking this time for yourself helps you to connect to your body, take back control of your life, tune out the outside world and focus on yourself, it literally takes you away from it all.

Just get started; you don’t need fancy clothes or an expensive gym membership. Your house or the outdoors can be your gym, those who live longest aren’t necessarily doing 5 spin classes a week, they just move every day and throughout the day. Exercise doesn’t have to happen separately from life, integrate it into your day, walk in the morning, at lunch or in the evening, it doesn’t have to be about taking it to the extreme. Do exercise that you enjoy and you’re more likely to crave that dopamine hit. Aim for your 10,000 steps a day outside if the thought of a testosterone filled gym puts you off.

Strength training is just as important as cardio; you don’t need to aim for bulging biceps bursting out of a tight t-shirt, it’s not about vanity or looking like The Hulk, it’s about aiding your physical health. Loss of muscle accelerates as we get older and strength training improves bone density and even helps to prevent osteoporosis.  You won’t necessarily bulk up as this takes specific training and a specialised diet, but you will feel the psychological and physical benefits of pumping iron.

When you have a chronic illness, exercise becomes a blessing and not a chore, you are grateful for the movements that your body can make and will do anything to ensure that it continues, exercise is not about weight loss for me, that is just one of the side effects. I don’t ‘have’ to exercise, I am blessed that I ‘get’ to exercise, unfortunately there are so many people who don’t have this opportunity. I appreciate exercise as it is my workout for the body, mind and even my soul.

So, get the trainers on and go hustle for those muscles. Most importantly, don’t forget that shopping counts as cardio! Just do whatever you can to take care of your body and rest assured that it will thank you for it…

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