Archives for posts with tag: exercise

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By Kate Cunnigham, MATC counselor

Ah, winter in Wisconsin! Like many who reside at our particular latitude, we’re starting to feel the drag right about now – the holidays are over, the snow isn’t “festive” anymore, driving can be hazardous, and it’s cold/dark/nasty out. If the winter blues have come your way, you’re not alone; fortunately, you’re not helpless either. There are some simple things you can do to help combat feeling down or depressed during the winter months. Give some of the following a try:

Stick to a routine

Get out of bed at a certain hour every day and do something (go to class, exercise, clean, call a family member, etc.). Even if you’re not really feeling it, keeping up with your regular activities can help keep the blues from getting worse.

Exercise

Exercise can be a powerful tool in managing symptoms of depression or anxiety. In fact, there’s good evidence that suggests that over time a moderate, regular exercise routine can be as effective in treating mood disorders as a low-dose antidepressant. The Downtown Milwaukee Campus gym is accessible to current MATC students, faculty and staff alike; if that doesn’t appeal to you, go the DIY route. Find a spot you can dance around, do some sit-ups, or just take a walk a few times a week. If you visit the Main Building during the lunch hour, you may notice some resourceful folks with step trackers making good use of the hallways and stairwells – there’s no wrong way to do it, so long as you move.

Get into the light

The winter months bring some dreary days to Wisconsin, and yes, this can absolutely affect your mood. Take advantage of when we do get a little sunshine to find a window to sit in and soak up some of that light. Some people are so affected by the reduction in sunlight during the winter that getting a sun lamp can be a worthwhile investment.

Boost your nutrition

What you eat – or don’t eat – can affect your mood, too. If your regular diet is short on nutrients (even if it’s not short on calories), this can contribute to feeling down or sluggish. You don’t need to go crazy to make an improvement in your daily nutrition – you can eat a carrot, an apple, or whatever produce is in-season and cheap. While you’re at it, drink a glass of milk with that doughnut and get a little more protein and Vitamin D in your life. If you can get your hands on a multivitamin (it doesn’t need to be fancy – generic works just fine), that can be helpful as well.

Grow your altruistic side

Take time regularly to focus on helping someone else. Believe it or not, one of the surest ways to feel good yourself is by doing things for others. You can volunteer formally at one of the many local organizations that would be happy to have your help, or do something casual like shovel your neighbor’s walk. If there’s a particular social issue that you’re especially drawn to (homelessness, domestic violence, food insecurity, etc.), find out how to get involved and make an impact at the community level.

Connect

Make plans with people you enjoy spending time with. Don’t just agree you’ll hang out “sometime.” Put it on a calendar so you remember and you’re committed. Many people want to isolate themselves when they’re feeling down, and this can make mood issues worse. You don’t have to pour your heart out to your friends and loved ones if you don’t want to, just plan some time to see them. Even if you’re not feeling especially social, don’t flake out. Chances are you’ll benefit from the effort.

Remember, if you start to feel so down that it’s affecting your ability to work, learn, care for yourself, or parent, this is when it’s time to seek out some professional help and support. Talk to your doctor or seek out counseling on your own. If you need help getting a referral, you can call your insurance company or call 211 for a list of community resources. And if you’re having thoughts of self-harm, harm to others or suicide, don’t wait – get to a hospital emergency room right away, or call 911.

 

 

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By Judy Springer, MATC physical education instructor

No time… Too tired… No fun… I feel out of place… What’s in it for me?

Too often the excuses for exercising outweigh the desire to get moving.  However, when using the following strategies, physical activity seems to be the perfect remedy for many of life’s ills. Let’s “walk” through the most up-to-date information on managing stress effectively for better health and wellness.

Winning Tool for Stress Relief

Stress is an undeniable part of life. Seven of 10 adults in the United States say they experience stress or anxiety daily, and most say it interferes at least moderately with their lives. In most cases, physical activity can be a powerful tool for managing daily stress. While there are many coping techniques such as reading and talking with others, exercise with its physical and mental benefits may be the one most recommended by health professionals. Studies suggest that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function.

Physical activity bumps up the production of endorphins – your brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters. It also improves the ability to sleep, which in turn aids in managing stress. Conventional wisdom holds that a regular low-to-moderate activity habit makes you feel energized and healthy by decreasing overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes mood and improves self-esteem. Even five minutes of walking the hallways between classes or during lunch time can set ‘anti-anxiety’ processes in motion.

Activity to Counter Family History of Heart Disease

The holiday season often means spending more time with family and friends. Spending time with family can be fun and energizing, but also reminds us that our own health is impacted by our genetics. A new analysis of data published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests good news is at hand – our genetics are only one factor when it comes to the risk for heart disease. By choosing healthy lifestyles –not smoking; exercising moderately; and eating a healthy diet heavy in fruits, vegetables and whole grains – individuals can reduce the effect of being dealt a less than optimal genetic hand. 

Let Your Routine Take Shape

A successful exercise and lifestyle activity program begins with a few simple steps. Start low and go slow. Build up your fitness routine gradually. Consistency is the key to managing stress through physical activity, so begin at a level that is comfortable for you to take small, manageable steps to better health. For instance, taking the stairs instead of the elevator is a great way to “sneak” in exercise during the day. Parking the car as far from the entrance as possible is a great aid in increasing steps throughout the day.

Choose activities you enjoy. Practically any form of exercise or movement can improve fitness while decreasing stress. The most important thing is to choose an activity that you enjoy. Cycling, stair climbing, yoga, walking, running, swimming, weightlifting and gardening are all examples of movement activities.

Still searching for an option? Students can enroll in an MATC physical education course to try their hands at dance, yoga, basketball, or volleyball. You will have a blast AND earn college credit. Or try the Student Fitness Center for a quick workout between classes or as an “end-of-day” stress reliever. Faculty and staff can choose professional development classes to earn credit while working out to relax, participate in an open gym session or hike the hallways to clear their minds.

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Photos taken during MATC physical education courses.

Schedule your activity. Planning some time to move every day helps you make your exercise program more of a habit, which leads to consistency and desired outcomes. Record your proposed activity in your calendar to ensure that your daily dose is taken as prescribed. 

Know Your Resources

Starting an exercise program is just the first step. Here are some tips for tapping into tried and true strategies to stick with a new routine or reinvigorate a tired workout:

Buddy up. Having a friend waiting for you to work out acts as a powerful incentive to edge away from your desk at lunch or after work. You may find the encouragement and healthy competition from a friend to be the perfect fit for sustained participation.

Mix it up. Choosing a new activity or revisiting a past interest may be just the thing to add a new spark to your routine. If you are a fan of strength training, you might enjoy the flexibility benefits of yoga. For those with a cardio preference, tai chi or an exercise ball class may pique your interest in a balance routine.

Enlist the support of your four-legged friend. Evidence supports that 60 percent of dog owners in the United States meet the minimum requirements of physical activity by walking the dog two times per day. The time outside will rejuvenate you and your furry companion for better health and stress relief.

Think of physical activity as your ‘secret weapon’ to manage stress. Identify an activity you enjoy — whether it’s a winding stroll around the campus hallways or an evening volleyball match — and make it part of your healthy lifestyle for the new year. Any form of physical activity will help you separate from stress. Put physical activity to work for you today!

References

Anxiety and Depression Association of America (n.d.) Physical activity reduces stress. Available at https://goo.gl/1wSeYx

Ham SA, Epping J (2006) Dog walking and physical activity in the United States.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Preventing Chronic Disease, Volume 3: No. 2.  Available at https://goo.gl/ilQAEe

Kihera AV, Connor AE, Drake I et al.  (2016) Genetic risk, adherence to a healthy lifestyle, and coronary disease. The New England Journal of Medicine, 10:1056 Available at https://goo.gl/RIAPYj

Kolata G (2016, November 13) Genetic heart disease risk eased by healthy habits, study finds.  The New York Times.  Available at https://goo.gl/bGArYp

Mayo Clinic (2015, April 16). Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress.  Available at https://goo.gl/BWrLQf

 

 

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By Tina McLeod, nutritional science instructor, MATC School of Liberal Arts and Sciences

The holiday season is a time that many of us look forward to. We get the chance to celebrate with family and friends. It’s a time when clean eating and exercise can go the wayside. But maintaining a healthy lifestyle through the holidays while enjoying them is possible.

One of the best ways to get all of the essential nutrients is by eating a diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins. We should watch the amount of processed foods we consume throughout the year, but especially during the holiday season when we are constantly on the go. These foods tend to contain lots of sugar and sodium. Many individuals rely on these types of foods because they are easy to find and inexpensive. But they often contain many calories and may do more harm than good to our health.

When counting calories, many of us forget to count those in our beverages.  Fruit juices can have as many calories as a soft drink. So watch those beverage choices!

We need to stay properly hydrated, however. The dry, cold weather can make this seem to be more of a task than in other times of the year. Drinking water is one of the best ways to prevent dehydration and it is calorie free!  The recommended water intake is nine cups per day for women and 13 cups a day for men. The easiest way to tell if you are well hydrated is by looking at your urine. If your urine is dark yellow, you are dehydrated. It’s the body’s way of telling you that more water is necessary!

Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) is another nutrient that we need to be more aware of in the winter months. Vitamin D deficiency is very common for people living in northern climates. We can produce vitamin D on our own, but it is difficult during the winter months. Much research on low vitamin D levels shows an association with autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis) and cancer.  There are many ways to get more vitamin D in our diets in the winter months.  Foods that contain good amounts of vitamin D include salmon, almond milk and fortified cereals. It is recommended that adults get 15 micrograms per day.

Let’s face it – the holidays can also be very stressful. Though we love our relatives, we may not always like them!  This can lead to a lot of stress.  Our bodies deal with stress by releasing a hormone called cortisol. We have to be careful with this, because too much cortisol can depress the immune system and make us more susceptible to becoming sick. Cortisol also can hinder weight loss efforts.

There are many ways to combat holiday stress. One of the best is exercise. Many of my students that tell me they have no time to exercise.  My answer to them is to take the stairs. This is one of the best ways to get exercise in between classes and it doesn’t require a gym membership.  It is a great workout. If you can do this for 10 minutes, three times per day, you may see great results, not only with your stress levels, but also with the numbers on the scale.

The holidays are a great time to appreciate all of the good things life has to offer – supportive friends and family, a roof over your head, etc.  It also is possible to enjoy the holidays without sacrificing your health.