Exercise if beneficial for your mental health

Exercise doesn’t get rid of my depression. But is sure as hell helps.

I was speaking with my personal trainer about my history with mental health and how depression gets misconstrued. I told him I walk into most of my training sessions in bad spirits, but lifting things and putting them back down magically snaps me out of it.

My trainer Jamaal Terrell (good dude if you’re in the Roswell area), admitted his ignorance to mental health when discussing my struggles. Like most people, he always thought of depression as something we merely get over like a phase.

One of the toughest revelations I came to during therapy was depression may come in and out in waves, but is never truly a singular phase. This isn’t the terrible twos. Depression can stick like velcro, and much of therapy is learning how to combat it and what to do when you feel your mental and emotional energy leaning south.

So I learned breathing, meditation, and relaxation techniques. These are things I do first thing in the morning, right before bed, or during the day when taking a break from work. I do this to calm myself down or on a regular basis to keep myself as balanced as possible.

I also learned the importance of sleep, diet, and exercise. The human body is fascinating. If a few things go off the rails, an avalanche of supporting issues can result. Things as simple as getting eight hours of sleep, not consuming a bunch of sugar, or exercising at least 30 minutes a day can make a difference to our overall mental health, not just our physical health.

Exercising doesn’t suddenly make me not depressed. The stressors in my life still exist. But in those 30 minutes, I can place my complete and uninterrupted focus on something else. I’m too busy controlling my breathing, getting my form correct, and trying not to disappoint Jamaal (who always wants me to do three more reps) to think about what’s got me down. It is an actual case of leaving all of my problems at the door.

We meet once a week, and last week was leg day. I fucking hate leg day. I mean, I’m sore after each training session, and the legs are the biggest muscles in the body. So it fucks up everything I do. Getting out of bed? More like rolling out. Taking the stairs? Hell to no, I’m thinking elevator. Need to take a shower? Sure, just give me 30 minutes while the hot water bounces off my quads.

Anyway, my energy was low from the jump. I walked into Tapout Fitness with sunken shoulders and a lethargic walk. Discouragement at the workplace will do that to me. The first exercise was a superset: box jumps and seated leg curls. Nothing about those exercises is complicated, but one box jump felt like leg pressing 600 lbs.

I squatted and exploded my arms in the air to jump, but my feet didn’t leave the ground. My energy had my body so stifled I could barely do something I did with great success three weeks ago. But roughly 28 minutes later, I had completed three supersets, over 108 reps of work, 6 different exercises, and had all the motivation and inspiration in the world to face the rest of the evening.

I don’t exercise and train with Jamaal expressly because I love fitness and want to see gains (although I do). I do it to get away from my world outside of those gym walls. Exercise has kind of become my sanctuary. With every plea not to give up on a rep or insistence that I’m ready to add more plates to the barbell, I get further away from whatever troubled me just minutes earlier. I wish exercising could end my depression entirely. I’ll settle for walking into the night feeling strong and good about myself.

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