Do you find yourself running in circles?

Prairie View director of recreation Carla Back recommends doing just that.

“Any kind of physical activity can give you a ‘feel good’ sensation,” Back said, whether you’re literally running in circles or doing half-marathons. Over time, as physical activity becomes part of your daily routine, you’ll find the “feel good” sensation stays longer.

“Believe it or not, physical activity might be just what you need to prevent or get rid of any number of mental health problems,” Back said.

Back coordinates Prairie View’s programs for inpatients and outpatients to increase their understanding of how physical health relates to mental health. She also provides adventure-based activities to increase clients’ awareness of how behaviors affect their mental illness and to help them gain new perspectives on treatment.

“Total well-being balances physical and social health with mental health,” Back said.

Research in the past 10 years has linked physical and mental health; previously, they were considered two different types. Research has shown daily physical activity is associated with a lower risk of psychological distress. Physical exercise releases endorphins which can decrease stress, anxiety and depression while boosting self-esteem.

“When you feel better about yourself,” Back said, “you decrease negative mental health symptoms and increase positive emotions.”

How do you pull yourself out of the bottoms?

“First, get active,” Back said. “You don’t have to run a mile or go to the gym. Find ways to fit 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine to get your heart rate up. Find something you enjoy doing. And drink plenty of water. I’ve learned that 75 percent of Americans are dehydrated, which can cause mental fuzziness, fatigue and depression.”

“Sally” (not her real name) struggled with mental illness. In her mid-30s, she was overweight, had high blood pressure and low self-esteem. She participated in group exercises led by Back and her recreation staff.

“Sally learned simple exercises that she could do at home. She began walking for exercise, and we continued to talk with her about her lifestyle. She started a twice-a-week yoga program at Prairie View for weight loss and relaxation, and she would tell us about the new exercises she was doing at home,” Back said.

Sally lost weight and gained muscle. Her emotions were more regulated. She had less anxiety and stress and better eating habits.

“She appeared to feel better about herself. Her hospitalizations stopped, her social life improved, and she was able to function independently,” Back said. Sally started a job and even began to volunteer in the community where she lived.

Sally’s example of adding physical activity into her daily routine may not have cured her mental illness, Back explained, but it did provide healthy coping techniques that have served Sally well.

For many people, like Sally, who struggle with mental illness, physical activity can move them along the path to restored wellness.

Prairie View is a faith-based, private behavioral and mental health services provider. For information, call 284-6400 or (800) 362-0180.