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Exercise as an anti-depressant

Why fitness is a great anti-depressant.

My fitness journey tells how I used exercise as an anti-depressant to pull me out of a dark place. I want to share my story with you to encourage others to use exercise to improve their mental health.

My story

When that first punch landed to my temple, a chorus of pained expressions echoed around the training camp, it was like every student felt sorry for me at that exact moment. Truth be told, I absolutely loved it and recalled smiling at my trainer who appeared slightly confused at the time that I had enjoyed being hit!

I’d never taken part in Thai Boxing, the reason that I was standing in that ring on a small island in Thailand was because I’d attempted to take my own life in January 2019 after suffering with mental illness, and exercise, well, that was my redemption. 

Done thing every day that scares you.

Some psychologists like to use the saying ‘done thing every day that scares you’ – so I did. My fitness journey has allowed me to grow as a human being, make some incredible connections with others along the way and got me to write passionately about helping others with their own mental health by participating in exercise. 

Now, I’m not suggesting for one minute that getting punched in the face is the answer to improving our mental health. However, I want you to understand that exercise is a natural way of staying physically and mentally healthy. Being active is one of the 5 steps to wellbeing outlined by Dorset Mind. 

If only one person reads this article, decides to move, and then feels better about their day then we’re winning; is that person going to be you? 

Earlier today, I asked a number of followers to describe to me in just a few words about how they felt after completing exercise and the effect it had on their mental health. These were some of the responses… 

“My mind goes from being in a knot to having clearer thoughts.” 

“Accomplished. On top of the world. Free. Motivated.” 

“Energised, refreshed & purposeful.” 

“I feel like the energy I’ve expended physically, has then re-energised me mentally.” 

“Positive outlook & a weight lifted. No pun intended.” 

“It makes you aware that you can achieve things if you keep working at them.” 

“It’s a lovely way to chirp up your mood and also a great way to surround yourself with likeminded people.” 

Using exercise as an anti-depressant.

Isn’t it incredible how we can simply just move our bodies a bit more and feel like the above? Now how about adding that in a few times per week? I think you’re starting to get the picture…the reality is that exercise is a very under-utilised antidepressant and it’s free! 

Let’s focus on the quotes above. Do you wish to feel the same as these guys?! If you’re nodding in agreement or even better, shouting “YES!” then maybe the following 5 tips can get you on your way. 

  1. Go back to basics and ask yourself three questions daily.
    1. Have I slept well?
    2. Am I drinking enough water today?
    3. Have I eaten some healthy food?  If you haven’t hit all three then start nailing these before moving on. 
  1. If you’re fortunate to have a step tracker on your phone then set yourself a target to reach within one week, this allows you to hold yourself accountable for how you reach that goal! For example, I wish to do 35,000 steps this week so I need to hit 5,000 a day. 
  1. Lunch breaks. How about changing the habit and walking to a location other than your desk whilst enjoying an audiobook before tucking into that healthy lunch? (see point 1) 
  1. Create a music playlist to enjoy during your workout. Studies show that a good song can distract you from fatigue, elevate your mood and improve performance. 
  1. Find yourself an exercise buddy and share the endorphins…socially distanced of course! Having a workout partner will help keep you motivated but also help you strive for better. Maybe try researching small private gyms that are well known in the community to get you started. 

What if I’m not feeling like exercising today?

If you don’t feel like exercising one day, that’s okay. There will be days when you won’t feel like putting your running shoes on. I’d like to believe you’re reading this article because in some way, mental health has affected your life and the desire for change and awareness to this issue is paramount but we need to take that one step at a time. The same could be said for exercise. 

Just because I’m an advocate for health and fitness improving our mental health, doesn’t mean I don’t get my low moments, and when those days come, I like to use the phrase Abraham Lincoln used before becoming the 16th President of the United States. “This too shall pass.” 

By Joshua Parker – founder of the Elephant in the Room project in which he discusses mental health.

Want to become more active to improve your wellbeing?

Getting active is just one of our 5 ways to wellbeing. If you’re wanting to get active to improve your mental health, read about our Get Set to Go programme where you can find information on our groups and support to get more active!

Are you struggling with your mental health or having suicidal thoughts?

If you are struggling with your mental health, our 5-step plan can help. It’s a blueprint for people who reach crisis and want help but aren’t sure where to turn or know what help is available. It is essential that we get the message out to everyone that there IS help out there and things CAN change for the better. It is critical that people know how to find the help they need and to not be afraid to ask for it 

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