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Bliss Life

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Fighting Depression with Fitness

by Craig Nielson MA, CPC

Turn on your television for an hour or so I and you will most likely see a commercial for anti-depressants. They all have the message that if you're feeling down, medicate it.  Never mind actually dealing with the destructive thought processes that are driving your feelings of  blue. Today it is estimated that one in four women are taking some form of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.

You will also likely see commercials for fitness programs, products, and gym memberships. However , it seems as if most fitness programs and products are about first, obtaining a certain look, and second, about being healthy. At some point you might actually hear something about "feeling" better.  I believe this is backwards. Exercise can help you feel better, good  health and looks are the bi-products.

So, can exercise help you kick depression?  It did for me, and I believe it can for you as well.

My story:

When I was 21 years old, I fell into a serious depression where I ended up being hospitalized for three weeks.  This was at a time when television commercials for anti-depressants didn't exist, and exercise played a big role in my recovery. In the beginning, I was prescribed anti-depressants to help stabilize my brain chemistry that had gotten way out of whack as a result of my chronic negative thinking. Exercise was part of my recovery program where I leaned that during workouts the body produces endorphins, which help stimulate the brain with positive feelings. I got off anti-depressants in three weeks, at the time I left the hospital. I then decided then to make endorphins my new anti-depressant.

I continued outpatient therapy for several months after leaving the hospital.  I took this time to rebuild myself, discover who I truly was, and begin to establish the building blocks that would lead to a life filled with more love and joy than I could have ever imagined. The life I experience today.

Part of what contributed to my depression was a lot of suppressed anger.  I used this anger to my advantage by releasing the energy of anger into my workouts. I also began bike riding.  I started out with short bike rides, less than ten miles. Within a couple of months I was riding 80 to 100 miles in a day.  I was surprised at how quickly my body was able to build endurance with consistently riding just a little further each time I rode. On my rides, the cadence of pedaling helped me to mentally process things I discussed in therapy and ideas I read about in self-help books.

I made my depression my adversary  made up of little demons that fed on my negative thinking, and the voice always trying to convince me I couldn't meet challenges.  I challenged myself to always do more.  I rode longer distances, and made my rides more challenging by climbing hills and riding against the wind.  Continuously setting more challenging goals and achieving them contributed greatly to building my self-confidence.  I set scenic destinations by riding out to the ocean or into the mountains where nature rewarded me with spectacular views for my efforts.

I would ride my bike along the beach at sunset.  I then took to hiking, and would challenge myself to make it to the top of a peak before the sun rose.  Watching the sunrise was my reward. Being in nature was very healing to me and nurtured my soul.

I've been physically active ever since I began my recovery at age 21 with no plans of ever stopping.  I continue to find new ways to challenge myself.  Most recently I took to running, something  I used to I hate. After I completed my first marathon (for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society), I felt great; and through the experience I  learned to love running.  I continued to challenge myself and eventually qualified to run in the Boston Marathon, a feat I once thought would have been impossible.  On the day I qualified for Boston I had a revelation-, the only limitations we have are self-imposed.

If you suffer from depression, get help and get moving.  Find a qualified therapist to help you navigate through your negative thought processes.  Get moving physically to get those endorphins pumping  you'll become healthier mentally and physically.

A life filled with love and joy are there for you.  Get moving and go get it.