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With school back in session, work, and trying to keep a household every day, being active may fall toward the bottom of our list. That is until New Year’s resolution time comes around again.

I’ll admit it. I was feeling that way. For the first time in many years, I did not teach my regular fitness class over the summer and I twisted my ankle on top of it. I almost thought I would not be able to get back into my fitness routine. Luckily, I was able to recover, but I still felt hesitant. 

However, going back to my first class made me forget I had ever stopped. It was the best first day back. I forgot about everything in the outside world and it boosted my day, putting me in a much better mood. This made me think about the research I have shared in the past by the American Psychological Association, which shows that exercise:

•Releases “feel good” neurochemicals, which enhance our mood after moderate exercise

•Helps sustain mental activity. Older adults who exercise showed sustainable levels of cerebral blood flow and better cognition

•Helps combat depression and anxiety

•Can help alleviate long-term depression

•May prevent dementia-like illnesses. Older adults who exercised at least 15-30 minutes, three times a week were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Some of the mental health benefits from physical activity are instant, and it’s important to remember that so we don’t focus on just the physical benefits each time we exercise. Those changes happen more over time.

With summer over and the daily loss of sunlight until the winter solstice, mental health can be challenging for some Alaskans. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, getting 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and reduce stress.

If you only have the area you’re standing on, then do like I tell my students, “When in doubt, march it out!” You can march in place anywhere.

If you’re interested in doing more than just walking, try planning activities ahead of time with loved ones, from sledding to playing in the snow. Make trying new activities an event with family and friends. Don’t hesitate to try anything new because you’ll never know if you’ll like it; just know that you will most likely feel happier after the activity. 

Several entities offer group fitness class opportunities. 

Reina Hasting is a coordinator with Extension’s Family Nutrition Program, which is administered by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For questions, she can be contacted at rhhasting@alaska.edu or 907-474-2437.