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Exercise and Mental Health: Start and Stay Moving in the New Year

Contributions by Megan Otto

As we begin a new year, emphasis is often placed on losing weight, eating better, working out and overall improving yourself. While so much pressure is placed on physical attributes, improving your mental health is sometimes overlooked.

Fortunately, research has proven that physical activity can not only help one’s body, but exercise and activity can also help improve overall mental health and wellness, too.

Exercise can help prevent a variety of health issues from high blood pressure to diabetes and arthritis. But according to the Mayo Clinic, there are also psychological benefits to physical activity, as exercise can help improve mood and reduce anxiety.

Chemically, exercise helps increase the levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This improves and normalizes neurotransmitter levels, which helps us to feel better and release mood-boosting endorphins.

While this all sounds incredibly complex, achieving these feel-good chemical levels is actually quite simple. All you have to do is move your body – and you don’t have to be an elite athlete to do so.

Best Exercises for Your Mental Health

Aerobic exercise is one of the easiest and most common ways to enhance your mood, energy and reduce stress. And while the word “exercise” may make you think of running miles on a treadmill or lifting weights in a gym, there are simple ways to incorporate physical activity into your everyday life.

Gardening, washing your car, taking the stairs or going for a walk around the block during your lunch break are easy ways to get your body moving, heart pumping and boost your mood. While it’s great if you feel inclined to lace up your sneakers for a jog or head to the gym for an hour, any physical activity that gets you up off the couch can do wonders for your mood and overall mental health.

However, if you do decide to take things to the next level and incorporate regular exercise routines into your daily life, it’s important to listen to your mind and body to avoid overdoing it. If your body is not used to running five miles a day and you decide to jump right in, injuries can occur. Its best to pace yourself, set goals and build up to them.

No matter how you decide to take on the new year – whether it be joining a gym, tackling a new workout regimen, or simply by taking the stairs more often – remember the mental health benefits associated to exercise and moving your body. There’s so much more to a good sweat than burning calories or building muscle, relieving stress and boosting your endorphins are also key benefits.

Experiencing pain from an increased workout regimen? We can help!

If you’re looking for advice on how to work up to your fitness goals without sustaining an injury, or if you are experiencing pain from an elevated exercise routine, give us a call today! Our trusted physical therapists are here to help you manage any aches and pains you may incur while improving your mental and physical health.

Concussions: They’re not Just for Athletes

Contributions by: Megan Otto & Amanda Whalen, PT, DPT

When someone hears the word “concussion” their thoughts may immediately jump to a young athlete, maybe a soccer or football player, who has sustained a hard blow to their head in a game or during practice. But concussions aren’t just injuries that athletes endure. Older adults are also a large population who are prone to suffering from concussions.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) that is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. Concussions can also be caused by indirect force to the head, such as a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth.

Concussions are often missed or even misdiagnosed among older adults, so caregivers and family need to be on high alert for signs and symptoms. Most concussions seen in older adults are related to an injury from a fall. PRN physical therapist, Amanda Whalen, suggests that older adults often do not mention falls to others or they may not verbalize the symptoms they are suffering from.

Being aware of concussion signs and symptoms is critical to catching a concussion, which is often a missed injury as you cannot physically “see” it. There are four key categories that concussion symptoms are often grouped in, and they are depicted in the chart below:

  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Sleep
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Balance problems
  • Nausea
  • Vision issues
  • Noise and light sensitivity
  • Eye strain
  • Feeling tired or having no energy
  • Concentration issues
  • Difficulty remembering new information
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • More emotional
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Sleeping less than usual
  • Trouble falling asleep

Typically, a concussion will heal within seven to 10 days. But if the signs and symptoms noted above are missed and trauma to the brain continues, treatment and concussion recovery can take much longer. Thankfully, physical therapy can help!

Individuals suffering from concussions can find that physical therapy treatment can help relieve symptoms and be beneficial to recover. “When a patient suffering from a concussion comes in for treatment, balance is a big thing that we work on,” says Whalen, PT. “We also work on the neck to relax guarded muscles and make sure that joints are moving properly. All of these affect balance and other typical day-to-day activities, like driving or going to school.”

Low impact activities, like walking or riding a stationary bike, are also proven to help those recovering from a concussion get back to normal. But not all activities are beneficial. Those involving technology, such as watching TV, working on a computer or staring at a phone screen, can have a big impact on the return to normalcy and can prolong symptoms. This is an important reminder for individuals who may be bored during recovery technology is not always our friend!

Whether you or a loved one has suffered from a concussion before, the most important thing to remember is that if any of the symptoms of a concussion are being experienced, you should tell someone. Listening to your body is so important, especially with concussions as putting off treatment can prolong recovery.

“You have to be aware that this (a concussion) is not just going to affect your next week, it is going to affect you for the next year if you don’t take care of it,” says Whalen. “The more trauma, the more blunt forces to the head or falls that you have, it is going to be detrimental to your brain health as well.”

If you or someone you know has recently had trauma to the head and is experiencing any signs and symptoms of a concussion, we urge you to reach out to your physical therapist for treatment. Concussions are often overlooked as they are an injury that cannot be seen, but physical therapy can aid in and accelerate recovery.

Special thanks to Amanda Whalen, PT, DPT, from our sister location PRN in La Jolla, California

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance during the COVID-19 pandemic: Tips on setting boundaries and incorporating physical activity into your everyday routine

Contributions by: Megan Otto & Reece Jensen, DPT, OCS

The line between work and home life has blurred over the past few months as many individuals have transitioned to working from home as a safety measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This “new normal” brings new challenges as well — such as learning when and how to turn off the work switch when your office is now a part of your home.

Maintaining a healthy work and life balance has been a constant struggle for individuals in the workforce, but many have experienced added stress since they’ve begun to work from home. A lack of a work and life balance can be detrimental to the body and lead to increased fatigue, poor overall health and a loss of time with family and loved ones.

“If work stress is not balanced and negated with exercise, rest or recreation, we tend to develop conditions that are bad for our health: tension headaches, bad digestion, low energy levels and poor sleep,” says Reece Jensen, DPT, OCS and a physical therapist with 30 years of experience. “These symptoms can occur, along with increased family or relationship stress.”

Setting limits such as scheduling specific work hours during the day and turning off your phone or computer after work, can help combat work stress. Learning to say “no” and detaching from work are also good boundaries to set.

It is also critical that you take time to care for yourself, both physically and mentally. Physical therapy is one way to make time for yourself and promote balance in your life. Physical therapy can teach healthy stretches and exercise routines to help improve body performance and prevent future injuries. Additionally, stretching and physical activity help burn off the physiological damage that can build up from stressful days at work.

Jensen suggests that managing stress is just another facet of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

“Life is about stress and there is no way around it. Having zero stress is actually more stressful and can be unhealthy,” says Jensen. “There is good, positive stress like motivation, desire, goal achievement and performance, as well as bad, negative stress like tension, frustration, fatigue, boredom, fear and personal safety. As physical therapists, we help teach patients to manage the negative stress and establish routines that promote good, positive stress.”

Stretching and physical activity force the body to focus on proper breathing which helps to reduce stress in the body. Specifically, stretching helps to reduce tension in muscles that have tightened under stress, which often occurs when sitting at a desk all day. Meanwhile, aerobic exercise for as little as 20 minutes a day has been shown to reduce stress, improve your mood, reduce symptoms of depression and lower cardiac risk factors.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to put methods into place to help achieve a healthy balance between work and home life and lower stress. But, don’t be afraid to reach out to your physical therapist for help. Whether you decide to add in a morning stretch or an evening workout to your daily routine, your physical therapist can guide you in what may be best for your body and help you achieve your desired work-life balance!

Special thanks to Reece Jensen, DPT, OCS, from our sister location PRN Physical & Hand Therapy in Encinitas, California.

If you are experiencing pain or increased stress, give us a call today! Our trusted physical therapists are here to help you manage any aches and pains related to maintaining a healthy work-life balance.