Exercise Is Cheaper than Therapy!

You’ve heard it all before…

Exercise is supposed to make most things better…your body and mind will be healthier, your sleep will be better, your sex drive will be higher, your productivity at work will improve, you will solve world hunger, stop global warming – just kidding!

Let me tell you a story…

Several years ago, my husband and I had 2 children inside of 3 years. Those first couple of years as parents were blurry and overwhelming. One summer, I took the children on a trip out of state to see family – just me and two little ones on a plane for several hours. They were so small and didn’t see family often, so they clung to me during our stay. Only Mommy could give them their milk. Only Mommy could change their diaper.

On day 5 of the 7 day stay, I was so bunched up with emotion, I was near tears and short on patience. I tucked my kids in for the night and called my husband. He could hear the tension in my tone. “Are you okay?” he asked, clearly concerned. I’m pretty sure I might have cried a little. He didn’t know what to say, but wished he could be there to help. I told him I was going to go for a run and I’d call when I got back.

What started out as a drizzle turned into an all-out downpour. I ran, ran, RAN, faster than I typically run on any given day. Powered by frustration and confinement, I fled around the corners, right, left, right, to the path. The Prairie Path is a wonderful expanse of dirt trail linking suburban Chicago towns together for miles and miles. It’s a converted railroad with a rich history. And it beckoned seductively. High with freedom, I hopped on the path like a stowaway on a train. My breath deep and rhythmic, my legs loose and powerful, my body carried me like a locomotive away from the cellblock of my mind.

The sun went down, the rain pounded harder, and I blended with the path. I had no watch – only my insides to tell me where to go, how far, and how long. Eventually, my turnaround came. I stood in the storm for awhile, gratefully accepting the rain on my face.

My head empty and my heart settled, I faced the way that I’d come, and trotted back.

I called my husband when I got home. “Hey,” I said breathlessly, and even I could hear the change in my tone. After only a couple of minutes of chatting, he said – evenly – as he says most things, “You sound like a different person.” I looked at the clock. It had been 32 minutes.

Whatever form of exercise suits you best can be a powerful supplement to – and sometimes even a replacement for – psychotherapy.

Clients tell me they don’t have time for exercise. Yet – 32 minutes to a complete transformation that one rainy night!! My sessions are 45 minutes. Do my sessions have that kind of transformative power? I guess you’d have to ask my clients. To be clear, exercise doesn’t always substitute for therapy. If it did, then an athlete or reasonably fit person wouldn’t ever be in need of therapy. This is obviously not true.

Excercising for our minds as well as our bodies is not just my opinion and it is not just my personal experience. Recent research shows the drumbeat to exercise to improve our psychological health is getting louder. One study showed a 47% reduction in depression symptoms after moderate-effort exercise trice weekly for 12 weeks (2005, Jan. Exercise treatment for depression: efficacy and dose response. American Journal of Preventative Medicine.). With statistics like that, it would appear irresponsible to recommend medication to non-suicidal patients who are willing and able to exercise. In a recent interview in In Style magazine (November 2012), Catherine Zeta-Jones discussed utilizing exercise to help manage Bipolar Disorder.

Exercising moderately, according to the Mayoclinic.com, is gauged by quickened heart rate (not breathless), and breaking a sweat after about 10 minutes of sustained activity for about 45 minutes at a time, at least 3 times a week. Regular moderate exercise is linked to: Better sleep Higher libido Increased energy Improved appetite Increased attention span and focus Increased stamina Improved problem-solving skills Stronger immune system – regular exercisers are less likely to catch the common cold, and recover from illness faster Improved well-being Sense of accomplishment

Setting and Accomplishing Goals

Clearly exercise is good for our bodies and minds. But it can also be good for our social lives and our ambitions.

Working out with a friend, running with a group, hiking with a meetup group – these activities give us a social outlet as well. Having goals, say to lose a certain amount of weight, or to run a certain length race, or to go on a particularly challenging hiking excursion, make for interesting conversation. People like to trade stories of what works for them, and what doesn’t. What their next goal will be. How it felt to reach that milestone. It’s interesting, and adds an extra flavor to the typical going-to-the-gym routine. And having others to share our progress adds to the staying power of exercise in our lifestyle.

Further, having a goal makes us feel like we are moving forward. We go to work, clean our homes, take care of our kids, cook dinner, fold the laundry, etc., etc., etc. The routines of life can make you feel like you are on a hamster wheel, going and going without a point. Having goals, accomplishing them, and planning for new goals is good for us. Exercise allows us to set and accomplish goals every week, maybe even more often.

I have a magnet on my fridge at home that says “Running is Cheaper than Therapy.” Ask my husband about all the gear I purchase to support my passion for exercise, and he might disagree! The day that fresh sneakers arrive for any one of us in my family is just a little bit like Christmas for me. No, money can’t buy happiness. But maybe a fitness goal can help.