Depression sucks donkey balls!
It can, and does, kill.
Yet mental health is still deemed a taboo subject.
I’m a fitness coach, a martial arts instructor and basically a champion for all things physical.
But I also appreciate the mental side of our being.
To be honest, I can’t see a difference between mental and physical health. We all have health, sometimes its great, sometimes it’s poor, sometimes it’s in the middle.
But when our physical health is poor, we’re fairly well armed and able to do something about it. If we’re weak, we lift weights, if we’re sick we see a doc or go to the pharmacy. If we’re overweight, we moderate our food choices.
If we’re unsure you look at one of the 50 gazillion fitness blogs just like this one for some inspiration / knowledge.
But if our mental health is poor, it’s all a bit different.
No one wants to know.
Everyone you do know is full of the same shit advice.
No one wants to admit it’s a problem.
And that’s when trouble starts.
I’m no expert on mental health, over the last 4 years I’ve worked closely with the guys that attend the Hope & Peer Support (HOPS) centre for mental health and seen first hand what real problems look like.
The kind of problems that need severe medication and a massive amount of support to deal with.
In my small role as fitness coach and martial arts instructor I’ve observed how the act of training has a significant effect on the guys mental health.
Week in week out the crew come into me for what has become one of the best attended and longest running of all the activities HOPS offers. And they’ve blossomed for it.
Many is the time that one of the guys will need cajoled into training, but once they start moving they’re in it till the end.
Like I said earlier, mental and physical health go hand in hand, they are pretty much inseparable.
Once you start moving the body increases blood pressure, starts pumping around more oxygen, releasing feel good hormones. All of this goes to the brain, not just the muscles.
As we challenge the central nervous system to provide more power, more coordination, better movement, for longer, it gets better. That’s right the central nervous system (CNS) becomes more efficient, it gets stronger. It is this that controls the muscles, telling them to contract. But what is it?
The CNS is the spinal cord and the brain.
If we can stimulate those by moving, maybe, just maybe, and it’s only a maybe, the neural pathways will strengthen. Will this carry over into better mental health? No one knows at this juncture, but you know what? The chance that it might is good enough for me.
Even if it doesn’t make changes at the neural level, it makes changes in other ways.
Each week as the guys do more, they can see it, feel it. It’s tangible, it’s accountable and there’s no denying it.
If you got deeper in the squat this week than last, it’s a tangible, unquestionable truth.
If you did 9 push ups this week, but only 7 last week, it’s a tangible, unquestionable truth.
If you managed 45 seconds on the battling rope or you pulled of that new striking combination or remembered that footwork patter, these are all tangible and accountable.
These definable improvements are what makes physical training so important for mental health.
We can go on at length about endorphins and serotonin, nor-epinephrine and hGH, but these are meaningless to average Joe and unless you train in a hospital, they’re intangible.
But that extra rep cannot be doubted.
The weight on the bar cannot be doubted.
The extra 10 seconds cannot be doubted.
Each small improvement, especially if it’s recorded in a journal is an improvement. No one can doubt it, no one can take it away. And even in the dark moments, opening that journal and seeing the progress over the weeks can show a definite, unquestionable proof of worth and improvement.
Yes the hormone shift within the body is important. We all are familiar with how the body responds to the stresses of training with Opioids. Hormones that numb pain and give that natural high.
Too much of this can be an issue, as adrenaline junkies can often take it too far and become addicted to this high, pushing and pushing till they break.
But in a moderate and healthy exercise program this should never happen, just gentle exposure each time to these feel good, energising hormones.
After a good workout you can sit down with the blood full of these feel good hormones and reflect at how much better you are this week than last.
You can think about how that weight looked heavy, or that hill looked steep, but you did it anyway.
You did it.
No one did it for you.
No one made it easier, no one helped lift the weight, no one pulled you by the hand on the hill, you did it.
And this breeds self respect.
It’s not a cure for depression, but it’s something. It’s a drop in the ocean,
But if you choose a good coach, good training partners and an enjoyable, progressive training program, maybe, just maybe it’ll help stave of the Black Dog a little while longer.
Just my two pence worth.