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BULNES: Exercise can improve your mental health

Mind, Body, Scarlet

Humans gain mental strength in the same way that they gain muscle strength — by consistently lifting what deliberately weighs them down. This is, of course, easier to do with physical weights since anybody can go to the gym and find dumbbells lined up in a row waiting to be lifted. Mental strength, on the other hand, can be obtained by understanding what mentally weighs you down, restricts you, limits you and choosing to lift those metaphorical dumbbells every single day.

For some, getting daily exercise can help relieve mental stressors, worries and negative thoughts. Others may beg to differ, but working the body has enormous implications on mental health, which should be greatly considered before physical activity is neglected. Personally, going to the gym is an outlet that helps me form an interdependence between my mind and body, and its benefits spill into my entire day. Other than the gym, there are many different ways to form a powerful mental and physical connection. Whether it be through weightlifting, sports, meditation or yoga, the key is to identify this activity and practice it as often as possible. Those who gravitate toward sports and weightlifting tend to form a connection through forceful exercises that help relieve tension and anger. Others may find meditation and yoga to be more peaceful because of its calming properties. Regardless of the technique, the mind can be challenged and strengthened through stimulating the body. 

Millions of people fail to form this connection on a daily basis because they do not see how necessary it is to their mental health. If you haven’t been compelled to try meditation up to this point in your life, you must not really need it, right? Wrong. Every person subconsciously finds a way that fits their lifestyle and personality without even realizing it. Capitalizing on this activity that stimulates both your mind and body has the potential to change your outlook on life, to make seemingly large problems become minuscule and to continuously strengthen your mind to deal with any complications that may come your way. 

Mindful meditation is a great example of understanding your mind and using your body to ease it. For those who fixate on the past and struggle with letting go of loss or hardships, practicing mindful meditation can eliminate that habit. This form of meditation forces you to sit silently for a period of time and solely focus on the present moment, pushing aside all thoughts of the past whenever they arise during the course of your session. This skill takes continuous practice and is very difficult to do at first, especially for us college students living such fast-paced lifestyles. Nevertheless, allotting 10 minutes of every day to practice this peacefulness can improve your happiness. By learning how to live in the present, you can actually save hours you could otherwise be spending lost in thought with a textbook open in front of you. 

When you cannot figure out exactly what your metaphorical dumbbells consist of, there are very primitive tricks that can subdue any anxieties long enough for the mind to brainstorm and draw conclusions. Since they are innate behaviors, breathing and walking are extremely underrated as ways to connect the mind and body. Ironically, it is for this same reason that people feel calmer after smoking or going for a walk. Smoking, despite the chemical hazards, forces people to step away from a situation in order to go outside and breathe freely. From just one inhale and exhale, the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart naturally increases, and the body relaxes. Without the cigarette, stepping away from a situation, closing your eyes and performing deep-breathing exercises when necessary could make a world of difference to your mental health. It could relax the mind and body long enough to settle uneasiness and help reveal where stress is coming from and how to subdue it.

Your mental health is just as important to your existence as your physical health, even though its weakness is not visible to the naked eye. Think about what you can do with your body that helps strengthen your mind and make a conscious effort to squeeze it into your schedule. We all know what would be beneficial for our minds, bodies and souls, yet we tend to resist the urge because we think we are more efficient without it. But, something as simple as turning the radio off in the car for 5 minutes and deep breathing in silence could change your thoughts for the entire day. Allotting a set time every day to focus on nothing other than your joy, personal improvement and well-being is essential to your overall happiness — no matter what method is used.

Monica Bulnes is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and minoring in business administration. Her column, "Mind Body Scarlet," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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