We have all heard that exercise is important for our overall health. If you struggle with mental health issues, you have also heard exercise can play a major part in overcoming these issues.
I grew up being very athletic. I loved sports. I loved being outside running around all over town with my friends. Being active was just something I did so I never really thought of it as “exercise”.
Once I got into college/university my activity levels dropped significantly. School was my main focus so studying took up most of my time. This is also when my anxieties started to really impact my life. Not sure if there is correlation there or just the different situations I was in but it is interesting to note.
Fast forward several years and I find myself struggling with sever depression and anxiety. If you have experienced this you know that energy levels are often at zero. Not only do you lack the energy but you also have no desire to do much of anything.
Then you hear people state that you need to exercise more. If you do, your body will produce all kinds of wonderful hormones that help put you in a better frame of mind. This sounds great but if you feel like you haven’t slept in a week, where are you supposed to get the energy to muster up a workout?!
What came first, the chicken or the egg?
This situation is basically that questions. If I workout, I will have more energy but I don’t have the energy to workout.
This was something I really struggled with when I started my recovery process. I knew I needed to be more active again but it was so hard to find the energy to do it.
My solution was start small. And by small I mean SMALL! It was literally a walk around the block a few times a week. It took me about 5 minutes but that didn’t matter. I was outside and moving.
After a couple weeks of that I started to add a couple more blocks to the walk. It wasn’t heart pounding exercise but it was something and I was making sure I stayed committed to it.
Slowly, I started to develop a bit more of a routine. There were days when I didn’t want to get out but I forced myself to go. Over time, the distance increased. I started to add a section of my walk that included a hill which really was a challenge at first but eventually I started to look forward to that walk.
The best part about this was that I was simply walking. No crazy gym routine. No pressure from others around you being in great shape. Just you and some fresh air.
Over the course of a couple months I started to feel better about these walks. By now I was going further and further. Often I wouldn’t even think about the distance I would just walk through the city until I felt I should head back home.
Fast forward a year or two and I am full on exercising. It started small and grew to where I love to push my body to the point of exhaustion. My condo complex has a small gym where I can do weights but I have found that cardio works best for me.
I live in an area where there are a lot of steep hills and mountains. Beside my condo one such steep hill that I walk up and down repeatedly. It only takes about 25 minutes to go up and down five times but in that time, my heart feels like it will explode from my chest.
Since I started doing this more extreme cardio, I have noticed an even bigger improvement in my mood and energy levels. It feels amazing to push my body that way again. It reminds me of the training camps at the start of hockey season.
Experimenting with cardio and weights I found that cardio does more for me than weight training. My heart rate gets up quicker and I just find I am able to push myself more. I still do lift weights but cardio is what I fall back on.
Feeling Anxiety Creep In?
I am much better now at dealing with depression and anxiety. I will state that I feel as though I have recovered from these issues but they still creep in from time to time. What do I do? I put on my trainers and I work up a sweat.
The other day I was feeling stressed and tired after a busy day at work. I could have come home and relaxed on the couch for the evening but I know my mind would have stayed in that negative state.
So instead of that, got my workout gear on and did a solid cardio session. The result? I felt so much better and I enjoyed the rest of my evening.
What Do I Want You To Take Away From This?
JUST START. Start small. Work your way up to more intense exercise. If you go hard at the beginning you will be sore and you will hate it. In most cases you will probably stop like I did countless times.
Instead of self harm, drinking, sleeping or whatever else you do when you are feeling down, go for a walk. Get outside. Get some fresh air.
Eventually you will get to the point where you can push your body to see what it is capable of. The pain and struggle of that hard exercise is such a better struggle than any other pain you may want to inflict on yourself.
Over time that pain starts to become addictive. I love pushing myself. It takes my mind from whatever is going on around me to what I am feeling right then and there. I am present in the moment.
Start small and work your way through some different activities to find what works best to help your kind of crazy (I say that in the best way possible….we are all a little crazy and I embrace that). Maybe its weight training, or yoga, or spin class, or hiking or whatever. Just start and you will find that it can make a world of difference in how you feel!