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Third in a series of submitted articles sharing tips from area mental health and wellness professionals.

    As we approach the holiday season and a new year of new beginnings, many people set goals around wellness, health, and physical activity. Research has shown that poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems.  Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteem, and improve sleep. To provide community-based recommendations, two local health professionals were interviewed:  Dr. Amy Harms, Pediatrician at Sheboygan Pediatrics, and Jake Frias, Fitness Manager at Sports Core.

What recommendations can you share on the connection between physical activity and mental wellness?

Dr. Harms: The body follows where the mind will take it. That said, the endorphins released from exercise of any sort are some of the most beneficial endorphins in regards to mood and mental cognition. Exercise has a phenomenal impact on mental wellness, and will help to maintain a great mindset through good times and adversity

What are some tips you give your patients/clients around physical activity as it relates to well-being?

Dr. Harms: Physical activity and exercise are actually an extremely important part of getting good-quality sleep. Parents and teachers alike will most certainly agree that good sleep is perhaps the single most important factor influencing kids’ behavior. A child or teenager who is not getting adequate length or quality of sleep has a very difficult time concentrating in school, staying on task during activities, and managing their emotions. Getting up and moving throughout the school or work day makes all of us more focused, more efficient, and more productive during our time spent in the classroom or at our jobs and also protects us from burning out and feeling fatigued.

Frias: Exercise 5-7 days a week, even if it is a simple walk with the dog or reaching a step goal. I encourage my clients to workout with a friend, the camaraderie will help keep you accountable and provide a sense of support when things get tough. This, in turn, will help you to maintain a positive and healthy lifestyle

How have you seen positive outcomes of your patients as a result of physical activity?

Dr. Harms: I have had many patients that have been surprised at how increasing their physical activity actually gives them more energy, rather than making them more fatigued. They sleep better and feel more rested during the day when they are exercising regularly.

Frias: Every new client I have seen has experienced SOME type of positive result from committing to physical activity, even if it is one to two times per week. Increased metabolism, increased mental focus, increased energy, sense of accomplishment, and burning off calories are all just a few of the positive outcomes clients have had

What are some easy ways in our community to get involved and participate in physical fitness?

Dr. Harms: The easiest (and cheapest) way to get active is to get outside! We are very fortunate in Kohler to have the Kohler pool, the public tennis courts, and a beautiful village to walk/run/bike around. Our community also has a great variety of options for individual or group exercise – the YMCA, the Sports Core, Yoga on the Lake and other local yoga studios, two CrossFit gyms, not to mention countless other fitness facilities in Sheboygan County.

Frias: Walks around the park, runners clubs, gym memberships, yoga, stretching daily, bike ride outside, snow shoeing, group exercise classes, and swimming to name a few.

Do you have a prescribed recommendation for amounts or levels of activity?

Frias: If you are first starting out, I would recommend a simple walk. Any time you can elevate your heart rate more than a normal ‘sitting or breathing’ rate, it will challenge your heart and cardiovascular system, forcing your body to respond. As you progress, try and increase the duration of that walk, possibly jog. From there, change the difficulty: walk up hill, down hill, jog/walk combination. Overall, the body will begin to adapt to the same routine. Changing it up is going to be essential over time… the key is MOVEMENT that will make the heart rate increase.

The interview with the two health professionals may be best encompassed with the message, “Don’t be afraid to GET STARTED! The time is NOW! Everyone starts somewhere; the impact exercise will have on you mentally will be tremendous!” We wish you all a happy and healthy New Year!

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