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The economy. The election. The war: Don't let today's bad news drag your attitude down with it. We'll show you how an hour-long escape to the gym can improve you physically and mentally.
Is the financial crisis making you sweat more bullets over your 401(k) than you would on a treadmill? You can't control the stock market, but you can control your fitness. Here are six ways exercising at the gym can help you feel good about yourself, release stress and get over recession depression.
1. Achieve fitness goals
Those of us who tie our self-worth to our work and financial status are at high risk of feeling inadequate during a recession. The gym reminds us that there are other areas in which we can accomplish goals. Now's the time to set a record on the treadmill, at the squat rack or even in how many times you go to the gym a week. "I've seen clients find satisfaction in the gym that they're not getting at work," says Michael George, a personal trainer whose client roster has included A-list celebrities. "It's hard to feel bad about yourself when you just set a personal best in a lift."
2. Get happy
Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your mood, says Shirley Babior, a co-author of Overcoming Panic, Anxiety & Phobias. A good workout allows endorphins — the body's feel-good, painkilling hormones — to kick in and stave off depressive chemicals that are fighting for your psyche. "Staying active is so important during a traumatic time," Babior says. "Putting full concentration into each exercise allows you to cope with the stressful aspects of your day."
3. Work out your mind
If you can't sleep on it, lift on it. Physical activity is a great way to clear away mental cobwebs. "Whenever I feel I can't concentrate, working out always seem to help me think more clearly by the time I'm done," George says. "Just getting yourself into a different environment and getting the blood flowing allows your mind to relax and focus better on specific problems."
4. Avoid comfort eating
"People tend to find satisfaction in fatty foods because those foods generate endorphins," says Nan Allison, a nutrition consultant and author of Full & Fulfilled. "Exercise can help you avoid excessive comfort eating, or gravitating to high-fat foods, because it also generates endorphins and other hormones that give you a sense of power and control."
5. Get with the team
After spending a day around downtrodden workers, it's uplifting to be with people who are more interested in reps than reports. From spotting one another on heavy sets to taking a break at the juice bar, it's time to enjoy the social aspects the gym provides. Eve Adamson, a co-author of Empowering Your Life With Joy, says regular workout classes can even expand your circle of friends. "As you're seeing the same people week after week and pushing one another to do more," she says, "you can't help but form a connection."
6. Curb cortisol
Have you noticed that you tend to gain more weight when you feel depressed or are under severe stress? This is a result of increased levels of cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress and supplies us with energy when we're emotionally rundown. Too much stress can cause too much cortisol to circulate in the bloodstream, a condition that has been linked to higher blood pressure and increased belly fat. In today's high-stress economy, the body may not have a chance to return to normal, when cortisol levels subside. "It's that kind of mental roller-coaster ride that leads to cortisol overload," Allison says. The best way to reduce the hormone: consistent physical activity. "Steady, moderate exercise keeps us from feeling the major highs and lows," she says.