Green Living / Mental Health / Self-Care

Self-Care Sunday

For many folks, including the family I was raised in, Sundays are a traditional time of rest and reflection.
I wanted to incorporate this tradition into my busy modern life by aligning my self-care and spiritual practices on Sundays.  In my ongoing struggles with mental health & recovery (post-concussion syndrome, OCD, anxiety, depression) I have learned the importance of proactive self-care in living and managing a healthy and fulfilling life.  Everyone’s recovery journey is different, but for most people I’ve met: creating and maintaining a self-directed plan with healthy self-care habits can have remarkable positive outcomes on autonomous mental health and wellness.

I recently survived the holidays!  It’s a time I find particularly challenging – an exhausting number of social and family commitments; the stress of working retail during the Christmas season; along with a change in routine, sleep and eating habits; and this year I was also recovering from a multi-month illness during the fall.  So it’s no wonder I’ve been experiencing a worsening of symptoms relating to Long Term Post-Concussion Syndrome: headaches, dizziness, fatigue, problems with concentration and memory, and sensitivity to noise and light.  We got a rare sunny Sunday this post-New Years weekend so I spent this Self-Care Sunday doing aerobic exercise outdoors and swimming at our neighbourhood community sports center both of which have been shown, time and time again, to aid in concussion recovery, neural repair and post concussion syndrome rehabilitation / healing.

One research review concluded that frequent, moderate aerobic exercise (such as swimming, cycling, jogging or other sports that elevate the heart rate) can reduce physical, emotional and cognitive complaints and symptoms, such as sleep problems, irritability, forgetting, and being disorganized.  Another analysis of current research shows that aerobic exercise improves cognitive performance in most patients.  

Suggested exercises for concussion rehabilitation include:
brisk walking, stationary bicycling, elliptical and step training apparatus

An oft-cited UB study confirms something I’ve certainly personally experienced: “post-concussion patients can often perform cognitive tests as well as normal controls, but use far more mental resources to do so and patients are often exhausted afterward” but the UB study went on to also demonstrate that “graded exercise treatment appears to be able to restore normal function”

How Can I Use The UB Regimen?
To establish an initial baseline: participants should walk briskly or jog gently, progressively elevating the heart rate, until post-concussion symptoms are triggered.  Once an individual baseline has been established, participants should exercise at 80% of that intensity, 15 – 20 minutes daily, for 3 weeks.  After 3 weeks, a new baseline should be established and exercise intensity gradually increased until participants can exercise to full capacity without experiencing symptoms.

The UB regimen is based on the hypothesis that the regulatory system responsible for maintaining cerebral blood flow, which may be dysfunctional in people with a concussion, can be restored to normal by controlled, graded, symptom-free exercise.  “The data suggest that some PCS symptoms are related to disturbed cerebral autoregulation, and that after this treatment, the brain was able to regulate blood flow when the blood pressure rose during exercise,” says the UB Sports Medicine Institute’s co-director “We think progressive stepwise aerobic training may improve cerebral autoregulation by conditioning the brain to gradually adapt to repetitive mild elevations of systolic blood pressure.” 

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