There are many definitions of what it means to be “centered,” but most contain elements of feeling calm, relaxed and confident. In general, it is a very positive state that can help us get the most out of good times and better navigate challenging times. So that’s what the term means, but as we tell people at our mental health center, there are as many ways to achieve that state as there are ways to talk about. One that many people find particularly helpful is exercise.
Your Unique Workout
The first thing to point out in talking about the mental health benefits of exercise is that every person’s “workout” is different. The type and amount of exercise that someone in their 20s can perform is probably much different than someone in their 60s. The point is that you don’t have to run 10 miles to achieve a more centered state. As long as you are moving to whatever degree your age and fitness level allow, exercise will be helpful.
How a Good Workout Can Change Your Perspective
Everyone from psychologists to physicians to exercise physiologists have studied the effect that a good workout has on the body, and there is agreement across the board: exercise can help you keep both your positive and negative experiences in perspective. Here are just some of the ways:
Being centered doesn’t necessarily mean being happy. But, taking steps (literally) to support a more positive mood can help keep negative emotions from throwing you off balance. And the benefit is fairly immediate. Often within 10 minutes after moderate exercise, you will feel a lift.
Improved cognitive function
It can feel very jarring to realize you’ve forgotten something important like an appointment, a person’s name, etc. Exercise has been shown to help keep the brain healthy by preventing or slowing degeneration. The resulting confidence can leave a person feeling grounded and resilient.
Decreased fight-or-flight sensitivity
The physiological and emotional changes that take place when what’s known as our “fight-or-flight” reaction is triggered are normal. They evolved to help us challenge or flee threats. Some people have a heightened sensitivity to those changes that produce fear and anxiety. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce that sensitivity, allowing a person to be more alert as needed while still being calm and centered.
The simple act of making a commitment to exercise regularly and then following through on that promise can be very rewarding. Whether you do a vigorous cross-training program or go for a daily walk around the block, sticking with it in good times and bad times can be a way of maintaining an important sense of control over your circumstances.
Take the First Step
One of the perplexing things about exercise is that even people who have experienced its many benefits can be reluctant to get started on any particular day. We know we’ll feel great when we finish a workout (and for hours or days after), but yet we drag our feet.
The best way—and sometimes the only way—to beat that sense of inertia is simply to start moving. For example, if you intend to go for a run, don’t envision the whole process, especially those first few minutes when your body is adjusting to the exertion. Just say to yourself, “I’m going to change into my running clothes right now.” Then, “I’m going to put on my shoes.” Before you know it, knocking off these easy initial steps has given you the momentum to head out the door.
Helping Denver-Area Residents Stay Centered
Guidance and support from a skilled counselor can be another important resource in your efforts to secure good mental health. Contact our mental health center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to learn more about our services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.