Mens sana in corpore sano

California July 2012 from camera 019

There’s a saying you might have heard before which goes: “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” The saying actually originated during the ancient Greek and Roman empires, during the uprising of the civic and military powers. It has clearly linked mind to body, or a person’s soul to his or her body. I feel that with time, we have lost this idea, and have given into the dualism of the separateness of the two. Hence, our bodies become our physiological realm and our mind/spirit a mere by-product of the chemical and physiological responses of our brain, again, a physical organ. This is perhaps why the term psychosomatic is causing such difficulty in explaining what is actually causing what (is your psychological state causing physiological maladies, or is it the psychological malady manifesting itself through the physical pain). You can also be subjected to debates about the complex dialogue between these two separate entities, one defending all physical, and some defending the mental, spiritual, the unseen. Seemingly, as we have moved away from seeing mind/body as one, we have also moved away from our original roles or ways of living/being. We no longer have to hunt so we can have dinner, we don’t have to farm, we don’t have to walk for miles to get from one place to the next…contrary to this, our lives have become very sedentary. And isolate. We, often alone, drive our cars to get to our jobs where we are expected to be seated alone in our offices or cubicles. Interaction with others is often minimal, surface-level, impersonal. Physical movement includes picking up a piece of food, lifting it up to our mouths, chewing, swallowing, with an occasional walk to the bathroom. I often wonder how our modern style of life has imposed mental and physical diseases to all of us. My role in this is not to debate or solve the problem of mind/body dualism, but rather to emphasize the connection between the two. Hence, what I want to say is this: What’s good for your head is good for your heart. Get up and move!

I am also aware that for so many of us exercise equals punishment equals pain equals punishment. How do we change the way we see and think of not just exercise but movement itself? Can we agree that movement is a basic human need? Can we use our time to move (exercise) as our time to socialize, perhaps the time to bond with our friends, significant others, children? Can this socialization result in our feeling of belonging? Can we, as a result, decrease our sense of isolation, alienation, and loneliness? I believe that an act of movement, an act of physical exercise can do all of this. To use a different analogy, think about our society’s relationship with pharmaceuticals. Yes, I want you to think about pills. Let’s say that there is a pill that you can take daily for a month. By taking this pill, your mood will improve; you will look better if not younger, you will lose weight and be able to maintain it. This pill has no side effects; this pill is exercise!

So, if the knowledge about the benefits of exercise is so widespread, then why is it hard for so many of us to get started? When talking about any type of (behavioral) change, many mental health professionals will resume to Procheska’s and DiClemente’s five stages of change model. These include pre-contemplation (not considering changing a behavior-ignorance is bliss), contemplation (being ambivalent about change-not planning to change for another month), preparation (”testing the water”-considering changing within a month), action (practicing new behaviors for 3-6 months), and maintenance (continuing to engage in the new behaviors post 6 months).

This week I urge you to think where you stand within the above five stages of change. Do you think that exercise is pointless and something that you don’t need to do? Do you find yourself thinking that perhaps you should exercise? Do you look at those who exercise and you feel motivated to exercise also? Do you already exercise (run, jog, walk, cycle)? Do you exercise in a predictable manner (3-5 days a week)?

So where do you stand? What are your barriers that are preventing you from engaging in an exercise? What are the solutions?

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