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Robins’ HAWC says staying active leads to overall well-being

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The mind and body are more connected than people may think.

May is Physical Fitness Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. Stuart Bapties, Health and Wellness Center flight chief, said staying active means staying healthier overall.

"We often talk about the mind and body as though they're completely separate, but they aren't," he said. "The mind can't function at full capacity unless your body is working properly. It also works the other way around. The state of your mind affects your body."

Bapties said bodies need regular physical activity; however, modern conveniences have caused people to live more sedentarily. 

"We drive cars, so we walk less, while vacuum cleaners and dish washers make cleaning easy, and washing and drying clothes is also done by a machine," Bapties said. "Even at work we may not have to move around in the office because much of our work can be done just sitting at the computer."  

However, people can get more active by taking small steps.

"It doesn't have to be about running around a track or working out in a gym," Bapties said. "It can be moving more each day, perhaps just walking more, or taking the stairs rather than the elevator or escalator."  

Bapties recommended people with medical limitations ask their doctor for guidance.

Moderate physical activity seems to benefit most people long-term, Bapties said.  

"Moderate activity is roughly equivalent to walking fast, but being able to talk to someone at the same time," he said. "You need to do about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days every week, done in one 30-minute session or broken up into shorter 10- or 15-minute sessions.  That not only lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, but also seems to help depression so you get a double benefit."

Despite appearances, staying healthy takes work, Bapties said.

"Even though some people seem to get away with doing very little and still live to a ripe old age, most people aren't wired that way and, generally speaking, the less you do, the more likely you are to end up with depression, tension, worry or stress," he said.   

Bapties said being active improves mental health too.

"Physical activity also seems to have an effect on certain chemicals in the brain, like dopamine and serotonin which brain cells use to communicate with each other," he said. So, they affect your mood and thinking and appear to reduce harmful changes in the brain caused by stress."

For mild depression, physical activity can be as good as antidepressants or psychological treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, Bapties said.  

"It may be harder to get yourself motivated to be active when you are depressed, but being active lifts your mood and gives you a sense of being in control and in touch with other people," he said. 

Setbacks may happen, but don't dwell on them, Bapties said.

"Tomorrow is another day and short term setbacks don't matter," he said. "They're just temporary and as long as you stay committed to meeting your goal, you'll be successful.