Exercise is an Excellent Coping Skill


By Lori Powell, LCSW – March 9, 2022 –

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I always had good intentions about exercising, but I just could never find the time to select the program that would work best for me. I used excuses such as, “I’m too tired!” or, “I don’t have enough time to exercise.”

Only 5 percent of adults residing in the United States exercise 30 minutes per day, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When the world shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, I was working from home and feeling multiple emotions about all the changes that were happening in the world. As a social worker, I knew that I needed to identify and begin using positive coping skills to stay mentally and physically healthy.

First, I began thinking about exercise options. There are so many different types of physical exercise: walking, running, aerobics, YOGA, playing a sport, dancing, swimming, biking, gardening, or even cleaning! One day, I decided to pull out an aerobic exercise program that I had used in the past. I decided to attempt the exercises again by setting a goal to exercise for one week using this program.  

After the first day I was exhausted. My muscles were sore and I could not keep up with the trainer, but I reminded myself that this is a positive way to help myself be healthier, both physically and mentally. I knew that exercise would boost my self-confidence, help me relax, and decrease my high stress levels due to the pandemic.  

The instructor used humor, which made the exercises more enjoyable. Finding a program that I enjoyed made it easier for me to make the commitment to exercise regularly.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise on a weekly basis for most healthy adults. According to the American Heart Association, “Physical exercise is linked to better sleep, memory, and cognitive ability and results in less risk of weight gain, chronic disease, dementia, and depression.  Exercise is one of the best things that you can do for your health and wellbeing.” 

If you determine exercise is the positive coping skill that works best for you, I recommend that you select an exercise that you enjoy, set a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal, and give yourself a positive reward when you achieve each goal. For example, if you enjoy walking, set an achievable goal of walking for 30 minutes three times weekly for four weeks. 

Schedule this goal on your calendar to remind yourself to keep working towards it. Share your fitness goals with friends or family members who will encourage you. When you reach your goals, reward yourself with something special. Continue to set SMART goals to help maintain your physical activities in the future, and reap the mental and physical benefits associated with using exercise as a coping skill.