I’m a firm believer in that statement. If that is too bold of a statement you could at least agree that exercise enhances lives.
The different forms of exercise can make you stronger, faster and more mobile. Aside from physical benefits, what about the mental benefits of exercise? Can movement also help you cope, decrease depression and anxiety, and also make you happy?
I say, yes!
This best can be shown through two real-life examples: myself and one of my long-term patients.
Helping With Postpartum Depression
In May of 2017, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. My husband and I are so lucky! She was and still is, an easy baby. She’s laid back, very cute and eats and sleeps like an angel.
So it was shocking to me when at about three months postpartum, until very recently, I suffered from postpartum depression. Wasn’t I the luckiest person to have this sweet girl in my life? I didn’t know how to get out of feeling so low all the time.
I have been a gym rat since I was 13 years old. Now as a 35-year-old mother I have never appreciated exercise more! I strength trained through my entire pregnancy and once baby arrived I couldn’t wait to feel well enough to get back in the gym! As my journey through postpartum depression intensified I found strength in the gym. I didn’t care that I could deadlift only half of what I used to and I could no longer do a pull-up without assistance.
I felt so much healthier mentally by just spending 40 minutes lifting weights.
Evidence supports the anti-depressive effects of exercise in the general population and small studies have been done to determine if exercise can also decrease postpartum depression. The literature suggests this is true, though more and larger studies should be conducted. While science hasn’t concluded that exercise can decrease depression in postpartum women, if you want real life proof, I will be your case study!
Helping With PTSD
An even better example of a positive exercise story is through my patient. He came to see me for massage therapy the first month of my career as a registered massage therapist and I have treated him almost weekly for eight years.
Talk about loyal!
This patient had a significant workplace injury, was forced to retire and now lives with constant pain. He also has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and deals with frequent episodes and nightmares. I have learned a lot from him in the past eight years.
He has had ups and downs. High levels of opioids, sleeping pills and other medications, weight loss and weight gain, good days and very low days. He has had plans and goals that have fallen through because he feels too much pain.
Recently, he came into my massage room and said, “F*#& It! I’m going to do this on my own!” He didn’t want to rely on constant pills, doctors and psychologists anymore. He decided to take his health into his own hands.
He started walking. Five kilometres almost every day.
Then he started running.
Running turned into more running. More running turned into healthy eating. Healthy eating turned into losing 60 pounds in less than a year. I joke that we both lost 60 pounds last year, him from exercise and me from giving birth (plus exercise and healthy eating)!
But the best part of the running was the things positive things he would say to me each week:
“My PTSD symptoms are less severe.”
“I’ve been sleeping a lot better.”
“I can handle intense situations now.”
He still has pain. Every day. That has not changed. But he has found something that makes him feel good and has improved his mental health:
I saw dark roads for both myself and my patient, but now we lift or run our way to health and happiness.
“Sometimes the briefest moments capture us and demand that we live the rest of our lives in reference to them.” – Lucy Grealy.
This quote hits the nail on the head for our type of situations. An injury, a traumatic experience, or a lifestyle change can hugely affect how we view and live the remainder of our lives. Encourage your patients (or yourself) to find movement that they enjoy and that makes them feel good. You might find exercise saving one of your patients one day.