Raise your hand if you know someone or are someone who has thought about or attempted suicide. How about someone suffering from anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or substance abuse? I would bet all of you have your hands raised.

            From a young age, I have personally experienced some of these symptoms. Also, I have seen many friends and loved ones struggling through some hard times. I want to clarify that hard, trying times are not the only instances in life when you can experience these symptoms. For some, this is their everyday life. From children feeling lonely and misunderstood in school to older adults not knowing how to or ashamed to express their feelings.

            Before I begin sharing my journey and getting into how fitness has changed my life and how it can change yours as well, I implore all of you to normalize talking about our experiences, our feelings, our emotions… without judgement. Check in with that person that you raised your hand for earlier. If it is you, please do not keep those thoughts and feelings to yourself. There is someone out there willing to listen, willing to hear you, willing to be there for you and with you. There are many mental health therapists and individuals that are qualified to listen and help. There are hotlines such as the National Suicide Hotline and other websites containing many resources (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) that you can utilize as well.

            I want to be very, very clear that I am not a mental health therapist and that I am a personal trainer who specializes in holistic, integrative physical fitness.

 

My Journey

As a child, I had a wonderful life: parents that cared for me and loved me unconditionally, super close and strong family support, wonderful friends, and had everything I could have asked for. Sounds great, yet overtime, I found myself feeling lonely, overwhelmed, and hopeless. As I grew older, I went through the deaths/losses of family members and friends, abusive relationships, instability, and the feeling of “not being enough,” without being too specific. Many times, asking myself, “Well, what can I even do about this [situation]? I can’t change this or that. There’s nothing I can do.” Later, I began playing sports and then in high school, I took up weightlifting. 

Sports and weightlifting were outlets for me where I was able to be surrounded by my friends and coaches. It helped me focus on myself and the team for a few hours. I can confidently say that the 30-minute run, the 2-hour practice, the hour lifting session, all gave me the opportunity to disconnect from the outside world and just focus on me. No obligations, no responsibilities, no judgment. Just me, working on myself. 

With my profession, I am now able to share fitness with others. Whether I am in a one-on-on or group setting with my clients, I am able to build a community of support based around fitness and healthy life-style habits. I am forever grateful for those who have been there for me and for those who have introduced exercise and movement to me as an empowering tool and coping strategy.

Still to this day I have those feelings I mentioned above, however, consistent exercise and movement has given me an opportunity to cope with these feelings and lessen their effects on me. When I find myself infrequnetly exercising or moving, a lot of these symptoms tend to return.

 

How Does Exercise and Movement Affect the Body?

 

This past June (2020), 40% of American adults reported that they were struggling with mental health disorders or substance abuse. FORTY PERCENT. That is 2 out of every 5 adults.1 Depression and substance abuse are becoming more and more common amongst Americans. These numbers are rising at a staggering rate considering prior recorded data indicated that 1 in 12 adults in 2018 reported having either a mental health disorder or substance abuse disorder.2,3 Many of these individuals are prescribed antidepressant medications. Consistent exercise and movement have been studied and shown to be another effective way to combat and, in some cases, alleviate these symptoms. 

Exercise helps alter the chemicals that our brain produces. Have you ever heard of the stress-hormone cortisol? Exercise causes this hormone to be released. That’s bad right?! Not necessarily. Exercise is a form of “good” stress. As you continue to stimulate your brain with exercise, your brain adapts (neuroplasticity) and lessons the amount of cortisol excreted from exercise. When we are consistently in a state of “bad” stress, our bodies are more susceptible to diseases such as high blood pressure, hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar levels, which can lead to diabetes), anxiety, and depression. Exercise also promotes the release of endorphins (“runner’s high”) which promotes positive mood!4

Exercise and movement’s benefits can aid other disorders beyond anxiety and depression. Even individuals suffering from mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders that involve a specific medication regimen or support program, can benefit from adding exercise as an added coping skill.

Before beginning an exercise program, please consult with your physician and mental health therapist.

 

Exercise/Movement Strategies to Help Combat Depression

Without writing out some one-size-fits-all answer here, I want to EMPOWER you to find something you enjoy.

  1. Find Something you enjoy:

Walking, running, hiking, biking, swimming, sports, weightlifting, etc.

  1. Do it CONSISTENTLY.

Let’s be realistic. If you haven’t been doing any of these things at all, saying that you will do them everyday starting tomorrow may not happen.

What do you have the time for? 1 or 2 times a week? 3 times a week? 10 minutes? 30 minutes? It’s all good! START and then evolve your exercise practice as you go.

  1. Exercise Partner

For some, it helps to have a partner in crime to exercise with; however, if they stop exercising or showing up, remember this is YOUR practice and your therapy. Keep going. (I’m not saying leave them behind, but sometimes when your partner stops, it’s an easy “out” to stop exercising with them).

  1. The power of music/podcasts

Music and podcasts are great tools to use to improve the overall experience of exercise. Music can be uplifting and podcasts can cover some of your favorite topics and hobbies!

  1. Finally, speak or work with an expert.

As you progress in your journey, I highly recommend finding well-researched resources or working with a qualified personal trainer for ways on how you can continue to grow and to be safe in your exercise and movement journey.

If you have any questions in regards to exercise, would like to share your story/journey, or if I can be of assistance in any way, please reach out to me via email at ssarge@ampersandintegrative.com.

 

 

Resources

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm

https://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20180219nchsdepression.html

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db303.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4703784/

 

More Information on Depression

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007

 

Stefano Sarge

Personal Fitness Trainer

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