If you’ve met me through my work at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield or through our Blue & You Fitness Challenge, you know that I am a big believer that health is a journey toward finding the things in life that will fit your lifestyle and interests. Health and wellness are also so much more than physical fitness, including your whole self – from physical to mental, social and spiritual. And while it can seem daunting to begin that journey to better health, it’s much simpler than you may think. Even small physical changes can make a big impact in both your physical and mental health, something we could all benefit from.
State of Mental Health In Arkansas
In a recent survey, Arkansas Blue Cross conducted with Arkansans in rural and suburban settings, we learned that people are more willing to openly discuss mental health but continue to downplay the seriousness of their own anxiety or depression.
According to America’s Health Rankings, in 2020, 23.5% of adults in Arkansas reported being told by a health professional that they have a depressive disorder including depression, major depression, minor depression or dysthymia (a milder, but long-lasting form of depression) – which was four percent higher than the nation’s average at 19.5%.
Whether you’ve experienced depression yourself, or know someone who’s suffered from anxiety, these feelings are normal and common. Your mental well-being is equally as important as your physical well-being. Maybe more so. They are tied together at their very core; if you are stressed, anxious or depressed – it can contribute to physical health problems.
Knowing this, let’s talk about what can we do to manage our stress and embrace the idea of a whole person approach to wellness.
Boosting Mood with Physical Activity
Light exercise and physical activity can improve your overall well-being, and it’s easier than you think. The Mayo Clinic reports that exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Adding movement to your day helps produce your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins, shed daily tensions to help you stay focused and even improve your sleep, which is often disrupted when we are worried or anxious.
The list of benefits that physical activity brings goes on and on. Stress and tension are feelings that almost all of us experience at times and incorporating movement can be a simple way to help ease those feelings. Exercise is as important for your peace of mind as it is for your physical health and your fitness level. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree, staying active can make your life better.
We know the word “exercise” is often intimidating, and that many people may think of muscular body builders at the gym or marathoners and triathlon participants. That’s great if that is what you are interested in! But exercise comes in all forms, and it’s not just about playing or participating in a sport. It’s simply things you can incorporate into activities you are already doing; there are more ways to get our bodies moving.
Exercise is Not “One-Size-Fits-All”
People don’t have to exercise that hard or long to see benefits. The CDC recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. That’s just 30 minutes of walking a day, 5 days a week.
We’re all busy, but if we set realistic goals, such as taking 30 minutes of your lunch break to go for a walk, we can achieve our exercise needs. It breaks up your workday, it relieves any stress you’re feeling and can lead to a more productive afternoon. It also frees up your time in the evening when you might need to cook dinner or do laundry. It’s a great time to squeeze in some movement. Make exercise fit your life, not the other way around.
Strength training is another important element of exercise and physical activity –opportunities are around us constantly, and most of the time, we don’t even realize it. The CDC classifies pushing your lawnmower as strengthening. You’re doing squats pulling weeds from the garden, and when you’re carrying in those heavy groceries, you’re working out your arms. So don’t forget the upside to chores if you’re thinking about hiring a teen to mow your grass this summer or having your groceries delivered by a local service. Stand up and move during commercial breaks or in between episodes of your favorite shows. It all adds up.
At Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, we’re committed to improving the health and well-being of the people of Arkansas. By taking small steps to increase our physical activity just a few days a week, we move toward a healthier, stronger Arkansas where we can all show up as our best selves, our whole selves.
Learn more about Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and our whole person health approach.
Kristen Lippencott is Manager of Health and Well-Being.