The Lowest Hanging Fruit
This most unusual COVID period brings unheard of amounts of social isolation, worry for ourselves, our families, and the specter of quarantine in homes that seem to shrink the longer we are secluded. These are challenges not seen in over 100 years. It’s a perfect recipe for irritability, loneliness and sadness - we’re hard wired for the social contact that’s dangerous right now. The emotional cost is high, and as it affects you, it affects your loved ones. One solution to these challenges has been documented for decades: Aerobic exercise. And the “lowest hanging fruit” in the exercise arena is, for most, brisk walking. Yup, it can be that simple.
Researchers have repeatedly documented the mental health benefits of aerobic exercise. A July 2020 Harvard article reports, “Exercise reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators.” Please re-read that Harvard quote. Exercise results in less stress and a better mood. That’s a lot these days.
If you’re now putting on your walking shoes, put this down and go. If not, read on.
The practice is simple: 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, 4 days a week to produce the benefits mentioned in the Harvard study. The definition of “aerobic” is an elevated heart rate. Few of us spend 30 minutes non-stop paying tennis, basketball or pumping iron, thus, they don’t check the “aerobic” box. Running swimming or biking are the other activities that can provide us with the needed half hour – provided you have the equipment, inclination and skill. Is it boring to you? Plug in your favorite tunes or listen to a book, or a podcast. Walk on a treadmill and watch a show, it doesn't matter.
Change, however, is admittedly hard. Trying something different is a critical skill we use when confronting a problem. Edison reportedly tried 1,000 different filaments before finding one that created the lightbulb. That’s a lot of persistence. So whatever excuses or rationalizations you have that get in the way of exercise, consider them to be puzzles in need of a different solution.
And if you don’t like the heat, walk in the early morning or late evening. Unless your physician forbidding you from exercise, you’re likely eligible. If you can’t walk briskly for 30 minutes comfortably, that’s proof that you need to work up to it.
There’s nothing to lose trying it out for a couple of weeks, which is as long as it takes for the benefits to kick in. And don’t forget – kids need this neurochemical support as much as anyone else. They’ll not likely jump at the chance to just “go out for a brisk walk” so find ways to encourage them. Walk with them, take them somewhere they can ride their bikes for a half hour. Reinforce their participation with praise and whatever treats they like that you can live with. It’s a challenging time. Meet the challenge.