How exercise helped my depression

 

Getting out of bed on some mornings was a challenge. Glen would coax me out of the foetal position, ‘Let’s just stand, baby. Come on, come here,’ reaching gently for my hand to lead me out of bed and wrap his arms around me while I sobbed on his shoulder. ‘I am not strong enough. I can’t do it anymore.’ He would whisper his reply, ‘You will feel better once you get outside. Let’s get dressed and go down the beach for a walk.’ It was more effort and persistence on his behalf than negotiating with a toddler; I required assistance at every juncture. My heart wanted to be the spritely and energetic woman he fell in love with, but my spirit was gone. The guilt of transforming into this lifeless, draining figure added to my depression. I wanted Glen to be happy, and it hurt me deeply. I couldn’t give him the simple pleasure of being enjoyable to be around. We would get down the beach. I would take deep breaths, drawing in the fresh salty air, listening intensely to the ocean rumbling onto the shore. We would walk along the coastline barefoot, feeling the earth squish between our toes and water rolling over our feet. I felt like myself here. Walking in the fresh air, removing myself from the confines of the bed sheets and opening my body out of a tight little ball gave me life once again. I could not understand, once I got there, why I fought the idea. It always helped. Some days more so than others.

 

On my darker days, my spirit wouldn’t lift completely. The dark cloud remained over me, and I felt the heaviness of my troubles with every step. However, I always knew that it served a purpose, removing me from my emotional turmoil and giving me space to breathe, allowing life to flow through me as I moved my body. Having always been a physically active person – a regular runner, swimmer, teaching up to 20 fitness and dance classes a week and having an endless supply of energy at my fingertips – this new state of existence was incredibly hard to grasp. I didn’t enjoy running anymore. The times I tried to force myself to get on the track for a jog were unfulfilling. I needed to listen to my soul, and it was telling me to take it slow and only do what gives me pleasure. So for around six months, I surrendered my ego of who I thought I had to be – supersonic fit and fast – and let go of this image. It was tough. I was the owner of a wellness centre, but I had to allow myself to recover and go slow. I observed my body weight go up and fitness drop. I couldn’t do what I was used to doing, and I needed to learn to love the skin I was in. After this slice of the story, it sounds contradictory to now state that exercise is one of your best cures for an overactive mind and depressed mood. But it is. Exercise is brilliant for your physiological and spiritual health. Yoga and Pilates are beautiful practises to bring you back to breath, feel connected to your body, improve circulation and reduce inflammation in the body. High intensity anaerobic exercise, although a lot tougher to endure, is equally as beneficial for your overall health. If you get to your lowest point where your bodily systems begin to shut down, as mine did, pushing yourself is not the best remedy. You need to learn to love walking outdoors and simple exercises that bring you back to breath such as Pilates, yoga or even golf. You could have come from either extreme of being physically fit or someone who sees walking to the fridge as their cardio, it doesn’t matter. If you get to the point where you are joyless, start simply. You will organically build yourself up in time when you are mentally and physically ready. When you are ready to jump into serious brain-powering exercise, anaerobic exercise should be on your to-do list. Anaerobic simply means without oxygen. Sounds contrary, however, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) has shown to support improvements in mental and physical health. It assists in controlling blood sugar and blood pressure, improves pulse pressure, reduces body weight and a radical improvement in mental health and energy is seen.

 

There are great HIIT routines available on my website. You can do these in the privacy of your own home or out in the fresh air. Another great option for this training style is to sprint as fast as you can, depleting oxygen (puffing without being able to talk) and then walk to recover and sprint again. Do this for 20 minutes and slowly increase the sprint time and decrease the recovery time. Both HIIT and sprinting are great forms of anaerobic exercise. Your initial sprint might look a little more like a waddle when you first start and that is okay; be kind to yourself and love where you are. You are starting something new and great for you, and that is more important than an Olympic pace. I let go of my fitness and focused on the basics for quite some time. I walked, lifted weights, and practised Pilates and yoga until I got my mind and eating under control. Once I ticked these two big players off, I got serious about getting my puff on. It felt freaking awesome. I started running five mornings a week and that alive feeling started to buzz through my veins. My god, how I missed that feeling. I cannot emphasise this enough: get sweaty and puffy as often as you can and as soon as you feel ready. It will do wonders as you release those endorphins.

 

You may not be a gym junkie or a runner and that is fine. If social fitness is more you and you like friendly competition, join a team sport – anything from touch footy, tennis, soccer or netball. Do what makes your heart sing and thump really hard. Another important health concern you need to be aware of with depression is circulation, specifically to your brain. Your hardworking circulatory system must defy gravity every heartbeat and pump nutrients and oxygen to your brain for daily function. Can you imagine climbing copious amounts of stairs every day, all day? Kudos to your heart; it does this, figuratively speaking. Your brain needs blood flow to function optimally. We’ve discussed foods and herbs that assist with this in chapter four; let’s now discuss exercises slice of the pie. Practising sun salutations from yoga, and Pilates roll downs and inversions are very helpful for improving circulation to the brain. We have daily yoga practises available on the website specifically designed for mental health and circulation. Essentially, what you are aiming for is spending time with your heart higher than your head. Practise this as often as possible. Daily, if you can.

 

Daily exercise has kept me sane. You will need to encourage yourself or have a third party ply you out of bed as I did initially, but once you start feeling better, you will be hanging to go back for more. Remember to choose your exercise regimen based on what you love. It will be much more satisfying and easier to stick to if you do what you enjoy.

 

HAPPY HABITS

 

  • Start slowly and do what you can. Increase to anaerobic exercise such as HIIT and sprints as soon as possible, as this will give you the best gains toward recovery.
  • Join a team sport if this floats your boat or sign up to a grouptraining program. It doesn’t matter what way you go; what matters is making a commitment and sticking to it.
  • Support your circulatory system with exercises that assist blood flow to the brain. Pilates roll downs and yoga sun salutations are very beneficial
  • For guidance with HIIT routines and yoga flows, visit melindareilly.com.au/videos/

 

 

 


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