Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Financial crises, election overload, and consumer meltdown -  it has been a fretful fall.   This past week I received e-mails and news from several people about layoffs and job loss.  My 401K statement came in and, after a quick glance, I rapidly filed it with the thought of “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Clearly, that plan did not work.

Last week’s headline, “U.S. Stocks  - Wall Street Tumbles on Slowdown Anxiety,” is a simple reflection of what many of us feel: Slow, down and anxious.

The annual hectic holiday hustle from Thanksgiving until New Years day is about to begin.  If you feel like your world is occasionally on overload and is overwhelming, don’t feel alone – you can rest assured that I am right there with you.  Possibly, like me, you are evaluating calendars and schedules, trying to determine ways to maintain your sanity during the upcoming marathon to New Year’s.

While we often look for something shiny and new to solve our problems, we need to remember that the tried and true often work best.  Years ago, I went to a physical fitness coach.  He was serious about teaching us proper form and how to vary the intensity of training.  Instead of talking about “”working out,” he referred to “training,” which in his mind meant a lifelong regimen.  He was able to teach and motivate me.  I was in the best shape of my life.

I can remember him saying, “Get on the muscle – everyone is afraid of using muscle because it hurts.”  He would encourage us to use our muscles (and not our joints) and increase our repetitions.  His view was that people often feel depressed or distressed because they are not using their bodies properly.  “Get on those glutes, get on those quads and you’ll feel better,” was one of his lines.  Well, it seems that he might have had a valid point.  

The study, “Dose-response relationship between physical activity and mental health: The Scottish Health Survey,” by Hamer, Stamatakis, Steptoe (10.1136/bjsm.2008.046243), published in the British Medical Journal, looked at the relationship between physical activity and reduced psychological distress.  The study was based on a “representative sample of men and women from the Scottish Health Surveys (SHS).”   There were 19,842 people (53.9 percent female) measured in the 1995, 1998, or 2003 health surveys.  Information regarding height and weight as well as medical history was collected during two visits to the participants’ homes.  Frequency and duration information for activity in sports, walking, and domestic physical activity was also gathered. 

The results?  There are “strong associations between physical activity and reduced odds of psychological distress.”  In particular, they determined that “a minimum physical activity level of at least 20 minutes per week of any type of activity” resulted in a lower risk of psychological distress.  In addition, an increase in frequency and intensity also lowered the risk of psychological distress, so to feel better move more often and with more intensity.

In today’s environment of high anxiety and stress, it makes sense to take steps to reduce anxiety.  One way is to make sure that you are physically active every day.  This becomes increasingly hard in an environment of stress, which often leads you to continue working, past the point of effectiveness, leaving little time for activities that might been deemed “recreational.”  Just this week, I have been so caught up in marking off items from my to-do list that I have neglected to walk our dog daily.  While she can run around in our fenced yard, this does not replace the three-mile walk that we often take together.

When we become anxious, we focus narrowly trying to solve whatever we believe is causing the anxiety.  On occasion, we become so anxious we simply become paralyzed, unable to act, frozen and reactive rather than active and proactive.  We forget that movement leads to more movement and contemplation can turn into stagnation.

In order to make progress, we need to act, to move.  Not only in making decisions and taking chances, but also physically, in order to keep our bodies fit, and our minds clear – ready to engage and to live.  We need to hustle – mentally and physically.  Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, noted, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

Science backs up what most of us know from experience: the more you move your body, the better you feel.  So make a point to move it - move it every day.  Let’s get out there and hustle. 


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.