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Hello Idaho: How exercise can improve your mental health

Physical activity can reduce depression and anxiety, as well as increasing cognitive abilities as you age.

BOISE, Idaho — Getting in shape and staying in shape is never an easy task, but it doesn’t have to be hard, especially if you set goals and take it at your own pace.

Dr. Sophia Godkin, the education and training manager at Optum Idaho, says exercise can improve your physical health by decreasing risk for heart disease and lowering blood pressure, but there are also substantial benefits to mental health.

“Studies suggest that physical activity also has mental health benefits like reducing depression, decreasing risk of anxiety, and increasing your ability to maintain cognitive skill or thinking ability as you age,” she said.

Developing a habit of working out does not have to start with hours in the gym each day.

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“Physical activity according to the CDC is really anything from low-intensity physical activity like a slow walk, to moderate-intensity physical activity that gets your heart rate up just little bit, to high-intensity activity,” Godkin said. “The recommendation for moderate intensity physical activity is 150 minutes a week, and you can think of that as 30 minutes a day for five days a week.”

Godkin added starting small is the path of least resistance to reaching your fitness goals, and doing something you enjoy makes you want to do it again, like working out with friends.

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“There is research that suggests that having a social component to physical activity can be really encouraging to maintaining physical activity levels,” the doctor said. “Another great way to add exercise to your life is to participate in Saint Luke’s FitOne race. Right now is a really great opportunity to encourage physical activity in our community by participating in this event virtually.”

You can sign up for Saint Luke’s virtual FitOne here.

Godkin said that setting and accomplishing fitness goals can build self-esteem and self-confidence, and encourage us to repeat the process in the future.

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“The feeling of self- esteem and self-confidence even comes from accomplishing small goals,” the doctor added. “Adding 10 to 15 minutes of physical activity into your daily routine can really help you get those mental health benefits and help create that feeling of having achieved something in your life.”

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