World Mental Health Day won’t come around until the fall but we don’t need a special occasion to address the elephant in the room during these heavy-hearted COVID-times. Let’s talk about this already.
As my colleague Sean Allt wrote about in our NO EXCUSE 90 Challenge post, optimal health is achieved when you understand the fundamentals of the five spheres of wellness and take action to change your approach to each sphere over time (with a plan of course).
Classified in the realm of the social, intellectual and emotional spheres, our mental health is without a doubt a star player in the game of full-body wellness.
In fact, our physical and mental spheres tag-team so well, we hardly even notice how fluid the process truly is.
Physical activity generates positive neurological responses which boosts our mood. That boost sends our body’s own version of its A-game around the cell and molecular network to improve our physical functions, and in one swift move our full mind-body connection scores a goal.
The cycle repeats itself, as long as you commit to doing the work.
You have to do the work
If you need a science-backed description, “Exercise leads to an increase in the calcium level in the brain. This in turn enhances brain dopamine synthesis, and through this increased dopamine, modifies and/or affects brain function, which might induce physiological, behavioural, and psychological changes.”*
If you’re reading this blog chances are you’re already someone who thinks about their fitness enough to want to improve their health, and the concept of staying consistently active isn’t new to you.
What I am asking you to consider next is,
how frequently do you turn to fitness in a one-week period as a means of reducing your stress or anxiety vs. how frequently do you find yourself turning to other coping mechanisms?
This question becomes more important once you hit 40.
Now, I could go on about how your 40’s are a time when your body will begin to undergo significant changes… but I’m not going to because I’m not a medical professional, a wellness expert, nor am I one of our well-trained Coaches at Innovative Fitness.
What I am is: closer to 50 than 40; a mom; a professional marketer; someone who proudly calls herself a bodybuilder who trains four-five times a week, and has followed a nutrition plan provided by an expert for over two years.
“So what?” you may be asking yourself.
Sometimes I think the only way to get real with each other about mental health is to get personal.
If you asked me who I was 15 years ago I’d say, a weekend-warrior mountain biker and casual runner. Someone with a desk job and constant back pain who enjoyed fine dining and exploring many wine labels on the weekends with my partner and friends.
If you asked me who I was 10 years ago, I can now admit I was a borderline alcoholic on the brink of major depressive episodes with a hefty mortgage to split. I was a full-time working mother of a toddler, and I suffered from explosive anxiety attacks in the privacy of my own home in the late night hours. I was in a very, very dark place. I was lucky to find kava (piper methysticum), a powerful medicinal herb native to Fiji and the Pacific Islands that was a godsend in helping my alcohol withdrawal symptoms and also reduced my anxiety. By taking only two kava capsules a day and working out, I was able to reduce my dependence on alcohol and reduce social anxiety.
Who am I now? Today, I’m the happiest and fittest I’ve ever been in my entire life. Depression a foggy memory. Living with that same partner, and the coolest teenager on the planet.
What changed? Maybe I had an early mid-life crisis. Or perhaps one day I had an epiphany and was reminded of the illustration on those aircraft safety cards where they say you must help yourself before you can help others.
Help yourself before you can help others.
I knew I needed professional help (and I got it), but I also started running. At first I ran to escape like I used to drink to escape. I ran 5km Sundays to chase away dark thoughts. Those quickly turned into 15km Sundays until I found myself running a couple half-marathons.
I didn’t consult anyone on how to improve my gait, and there was some pain (mental and physical) here and there, but I pulled through. Then when I was 41 a close friend introduced me to her Personal Trainer.
Nearly six – dedicated – years later, nothing in my life has been the same since that introduction.
In fact, the single largest habitual change I’ve made in my life since I met my first personal trainer has been my ongoing level of commitment to my weekly doses of fitness.
Why? Because the more I stay on track, the more I feel my entire body and mindset shifting. But you can’t stop once you start, not at this age. A fit body builds a fitter mind.
“If this were a pill people would buy it by the truck-load,” said the marketer in me.
Once I added more fitness into my week (twice weekly at first, then once my daughter was old enough, four times weekly), my desire to drink more wine turned to more water.
My ability to communicate my need for support at home improved drastically, and my body started to change shape. Not just the outside – the inside.
Neural pathways that once went dark, sparked up.
As I was coached, every time I lifted weights (and they were lighter at first), I changed my breathing patterns to lift more efficiently.
Every time I handled the weights handed to me based on my Coach’s plan (to help me meet my goals), set by set, rep by rep, I concentrated on staying in the moment. The peaceful process of going within, breathing in a pattern rep after rep, was meditative.
It’s still meditative. And it’s healing. By adding more days of lifting into my week, I’ve felt chronic physical and emotional pain become replaced with a sense of constant inner-peace, and so much more joy for life. Not to mention, improved mobility.
Staying active helps reduce stress and anxiety.
The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes “staying active as a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, and improve our mood and overall health”. Yep. I’d say they’re onto something.
If you need to talk to someone about your depression or anxiety – please use this resource. If you want to lift your mood more often and would like to consult with a Coach to get more of a good thing in your life – for life – talk to us at Innovative Fitness.
We offer one-on-one, personalized coaching that transforms lives. And, marketer though I am, I don’t make the claim lightly.
*Source: Institute of Medical Science, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan
Blog credit: Penny Greening