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The benefits of exercise

The following should be used with clients to assist them in their understanding of what is required when exercising for improved mental health, versus exercising for physical health, strength, fitness or weight loss.


 Exercise is not just about physical health! Did you know that exercise helps our brain? It assists in neurological functioning, emotional wellbeing and general health. This includes improved;

  • Mood; reported to increase “feel good” neurochemicals, build confidence and self esteem, can act as a distraction from worry and is a positive coping strategy
  • Cognitive functioning; concentration, memory, attention, judgement and learning ability
  • Sleep quality; sleep duration, regulating/moderating sleep cycles, reduced insomnia
  • Psychological symptoms associated with PTSD and depression (reduced nightmare duration), substance abuse recovery and pain related difficulties
  • Physiological functioning; heart functioning, reduced risk of stroke, diabetes etc
  • Assist in the management of chronic pain and recovery from physical injury
  • Overall wellbeing; muscle and bone strength, metabolism etc

What to do!

  • Introduce incidental exercise into your life; take advantage of the walking you do by making it brisk, take the stairs rather than the escalator, park your car further away or avoid short cuts
  • When you exercise ensure the following happens; get your heart rate up, sweat and feel “puffed” – aim for half an hour at least
  • Consult your doctor if you have health conditions that may affect the nature of the exercise you undertake
  • Consult an exercise physiologist on what exercises you can do with an injury or if you experience other health related complications including chronic pain that may restrict your capacity exercise – there is no excuse!
  • Treat exercise as a prescribed medication; have a health check, follow doctor’s advice and stick to it, even when it’s hard to swallow!
  • Exercise doesn’t have to be expensive and you don’t have to have the latest gear; walk around a park, take a swim (in a heated pool or at the beach), take the stairs to your unit or the shops
  • If you can join a club (check Facebook, the gym, the newspaper or community health), you will enjoy the social aspect as well as the physical benefits
  • Focus on the secondary benefits of exercise; being outside, breathing deeply, stretching or enjoying nature
  • Grab a friend and do it together!

What not to do!

  • Don’t overdo it; pace yourself. You see results without the fluctuations in pain.
  • Don’t go against doctor’s recommendations
  • Don’t plan exercise late at night if you have sleep problems
  • Keep it in moderation; if you build up to intensive exercise on a daily basis, give yourself one day grace per week
  • Don’t look for excuses not to exercise

   No or low cost exercise ideas

  • Go for a bush walk at a National Park or reserve
  • Take a swim or walk at the beach
  • Ride a bike or if you are largely immobile (such as after an injury) try a pedal exerciser
  • Jump on a trampoline
  • Use a skipping rope for five minutes (this is tough!)
  • Find a park, shopping centre or block with a lot of steps and try to walk up and down them
  • Look for community based exercise programs through the local council, recreational centre or swim centre
  • Ask your exercise physiologist/physiotherapist for ideas suited to your physical injury

(c) Copyright Carmen Betterridge July 2014     

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