If exercise were a drug it would be hailed as a miracle pill. It has been shown to be more effective than medication for a massive range of health problems. An area where it is particularly effective Is the field of mental health. The only reason we have a brain at all is to navigate the environment and it has now been shown that movement promotes neurogenesis i.e. the creation of new neutrons and improves connections that already exist. A larger waistline has been correlated with a smaller brain and the less you move the more likely you are to end up with Alzeihmer’s disease. In treating depression exercise has also been shown to be at least as effective as anti-depressants, which is logical as it releases many of the same neurotransmitters, but without the side effects.
I can personally vouch for the powerful effect of exercise in curing depression. In my early twenties I went through several years of deep depression, culminating in two suicide attempts, having my stomach pumped out twice after overdoses. I was drinking round the clock, smoking 40 a day and was reduced to around 45 kilos in weight, so poor was my nutrition. I was under several psychiatrists, attended a psychiatric day hospital and was taking a whole host of anti-depressants and tranquillisers, all of which did nothing to stop the decline. I took no exercise.
For some reason I decided to take the dog for a walk one day. It seemed to help my mood a little so it gradually became a regular habit. The walks got longer and I started to feel more relaxed. At some point, I don’t remember when, the walking became running. Soon I was addicted to the feel good effects of running in the open air. I started to eat better, I slept better. I cut down on cigarettes and eventually gave up altogether. The drinking became less and I started to take part in local fun runs (there were no Park runs then). Despite all the abuse I had given my body I discovered I could do well just by training hard and mental strength – the power to endure which I think came from having been so low and yet finding a way out. My self- esteem gradually became transformed and I started to realise the potential that lies within everybody but mostly lies dormant because we don’t challenge ourselves.
I became a social worker, then a teacher and later a personal trainer. I joined a running club and started to get more serious about running. I raced constantly – sometimes 3 times a week and even recall doing a 10 mile race in the morning, then driving across to the other side of London to do a cross country final for the club in the afternoon. Crazy in retrospect but I was just getting faster and stronger all the time. I reached the level of a good club runner and won some smaller races. However, the main benefit was not in winning but actually reversing my depression and becoming healthy.
If you are one of the large number of people suffering from mental illness I just want to tell you that I know how you feel and the last thing you feel like doing after another sleepless night is exercising. Don’t join a gym – just get outside and move around in the fresh air to begin with. Talk to your doctor and try to gradually come off the medication and replace it with exercise – medication is not and never will be a long term solution to your problem – in fact the longer you’re on it the worse you will feel. I know because I’ve been there and coming off it is hell unless you replace it with something else. Obviously talk to your GP first, but most doctors now are aware of the value of exercise, although they are under great pressure from patients and drug companies to prescribe the pills.
I am living proof that this does not need to be a permanent condition and that medication is not the solution but part of the problem. Just take that first step – get out in the fresh air and just move whenever you can. It could change your life.
To talk further contact David on 07504439555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.