There were many things that helped me haul myself out of the pit and back to a frame of mind in which I could make clear, considered decisions. One of the most valuable was practicing mindfulness. The other was regular exercise.
For me, and for many other people I know and have read about, exercise is enormously beneficial to my state of mind as well as my general health. As a child and in my early university years, I was fit and exercise regularly. I particularly enjoyed bike riding but also ran and played (badly) racquet sports.
During my 20s, though, I fell out of the exercise habit. By the time I had really reached a mental nadir in my late 30s I hardly did any at all and had put on a considerable amount of weight. I was over 240lbs and suffered a number of minor physical ailments – my knees were painful, I developed constant lower back pain, my feet often hurt if I exerted myself too much.
One of the things I started doing as part of my recovery process was taking walks. Often, I would have to be cajoled into going by my wife, but I did go. Once I had managed to make some significant, life-changing decisions (helped enormously by the process of mindfulness), I felt the need to rebuild my physical state as well as my psychological state. Taking care of one seemed to encourage taking care of the other.
To begin with I walked, then I started to run slowly and awkwardly. Gradually, some pounds dropped off and I got a little faster and stronger. I started to feel joy after exercise: not only the satisfaction of having completed something that I knew was doing me good, but also a genuine elation at the end of a run or a swim.
There is some science behind this, pointing to increased levels of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins during and after exercise. This was a great incentive, of course, but it doesn’t cut out the fact that you have to make the effort in the first place.
The bigger driving factor for me was what I noticed in all other parts of my life. The fitter I got, the more energy I had – not just for exercise but for my family, my work, even mundane life chores. I also slept better. Not longer sleep but more effective sleep; I felt more rested and fell asleep more easily. I could also concentrate better, I felt more relaxed and was increasingly motivated.
These effects have been felt my countless people. They are nothing new but for me – and I hope for you too – they formed a significant part of my rebuilding process. I now weigh about 176lbs and have exercise habits that continue to improve every aspect of my health.
I have lots of tips for getting into exercise, and once you are there, for building plans and motivating yourself to keep going. These I will share with you soon, so keep checking back!