National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Steps to Success
Movement of any kind can be very beneficial. If you have any medical conditions, including joint or bone disease, be sure to talk with your health care provider about your exercise program, recommended level of activity and any modifications you may need to make. Follow the steps below to form your own exercise routine.
This portion of your exercise program helps your body adjust to an increased pace.
This will slowly increase your breathing, heart rate and body temperature. Your warm-up should last between five and 10 minutes.
This part of an exercise program can be done in many different ways and will help protect your body from osteoporosis, help burn calories and increase lean muscle mass. If you have any bone or joint issues, be sure to talk with your health care provider about whether you need any modifications in your exercise program, including the strength-training portion.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a basic strength-training program should include exercises for the legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms. Some appropriate exercises for each of these muscle groups include:
Many of these exercises can be done in the privacy of your own living space and at little or no cost.(Link to H&M Exercise on a Budget section/Improvise)
Strength training should be done twice a week when you are first starting out. Try building up as you progress to three or four times per week.
The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn when your body is at rest. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue. Increasing your muscle mass through strength training is a great way to help manage your weight and overall health.
This part of an exercise program includes activity raises your heart rate. Regardless of your age, weight or athletic ability, you can reap the benefits of aerobic exercise. This is the type of exercise best associated with reductions in depression and anxiety.
Basic aerobic exercises include but aren't limited to jogging, swift walking, swimming, step or stair climbing, cycling and inline skating.
The CDC recommends that just 20 minutes a day (or 60 minutes a day for children) of aerobic exercise, even if it is broken down into increments, can help you live a longer, healthier life. Try working up to five hours of aerobic exercise per week and you will be in optimal shape.
This portion of an exercise program, more commonly known as stretching, can be done anywhere and anytime. Stretching can increase flexibility and increase your range of motion. These exercises can increase blood flow to your muscles. Stretching can also relieve stress, improve balance and help relax tense muscles.
Here are a few things to remember as you create a stretching routine:
Flexibility exercises can last as long or as short as you like. But it is important that for each stretch you pace yourself and hold each stretch for 30 seconds to lengthen muscle tissue safely.
Yoga, tai chi and Pilates are all ways to increase flexibility, build core strength and also reduce stress.
This last section of an exercise program allows your body to slowly cool down and bring your heart rate back to its normal resting rate. Gradually decrease the intensity of the exercise over a five- to 10-minute period until your heart rate and breathing rate are near normal.
How hard should I work?
There are several ways you can determine your exercise intensity level. The easiest way is known as the talk test. As a rule of thumb, if you can talk easily you aren't at the high end of your exertion. If your goal is to exercise at a moderate intensity, you should be able to talk, but not sing, while performing your activity. If your goal is to be exercising at a vigorous intensity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing to take a breath.
Perceived exertion is how hard you feel your body is working. It is based on the sensations you experience as you exercise. To decide on your perceived exertion, note your increased heart rate, breathing rate, sweating and muscle fatigue.
You may prefer to monitor your exertion by measuring your heart rate. Your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age. For optimum cardiovascular benefits, you will want to exercise within 60-85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Be sure to ask your health care provider to assist you in determining your maximum heart rate.
To get the maximum benefits from exercise, you should stay in the higher end of your target heart-rate zone. However, you will still benefit from exercise even at lower heart rate levels. Many people living with serious mental illness face the dual challenge of a psychiatric illness combined with serious medical conditions (i.e., obesity, diabetes or hypertension). Exercise can help by improving your heart health, body strength, psychological self-esteem, mood, quality of life and depression symptoms. Exercise therapy should be used with the support of a healthy, well-balanced diet. (
If losing weight is among your goals, you will benefit from understanding more about the calories you burn during the exercise you do. Online tools can help you learn more about your own activity, including Web sites such as Free Dieting and the Mayo Clinic.