The paradigm of physical exercise is false. There is no such thing as just exercising the body. The mind, heart, and spirit are always worked out and remolded just like biceps and abdominals.
When the Centers for Disease Control is listing the mental benefits of physical fitness, then there is more to the topic than just a series of rah-rah, feel good statements and slogans.
In America, where there is an obesity epidemic, any excuse to exercise is a good excuse. Pushing the limits of one’s physical fitness is hard, very hard, if it wasn’t then more people would do it. It should come as no surprise that those who battle depression also are less physically active than the average person.
Working out really is hard. Fitness models, bodybuilders, athletes, and supplement salespeople would love it if you believed that you are just an unmotivated sloth. But, show me an insanely fit man or woman and I’ll show you a person who is dependent on supplements like a crack addict. To work out completely naturally, with nothing but water, food, and sleep is a difficult proposition. Add a full time job it’s that much harder. Add in family, friends, hobbies, and the human condition and it is no wonder that the entire developed world isn’t dealing with an obesity epidemic.
The sick joke is that fitness inspiration through imagery of unrealistically, aesthetically in shape men and women can have an inverse effect on the desire to even get started. After all, how much time, effort, energy, money, ambition, and sacrifice is going to be required to become as fit as those Instagram fitness celebrities?
This is where a paradigm shift is required. Paradigm shifts take as much time, energy, and effort as all the crunches and clean eating required to get a ripped 6-8 pack. BUT, a paradigm shift can be as simple as seeing something differently and taking action differently based upon a different vision/way of thinking. The paradigm shift in this case is to see exercise as not just exercise for the body, but as exercise for the heart, mind, and spirit as well. A way of becoming more fit as a whole person. Not just as an aesthetically pleasing narcissist. But to be healthy, literally from the inside out.
Anxiety and depression are the thick thieves of living life. I can attest that from experience. If doing some push ups, squats, crunches, weight lifting, yoga, jumping jacks, and jogging can do it’s part to combat these twin towers of terror in daily living, why not? It’s cheaper than a Prozac prescription. But self-mastery is hard, and that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about the need to exercise for the benefit of mental health.
Self mastery is hard, very hard. If it were easy then everybody would do it.
I can’t pretend to have all the answers. I can only speak to what effect physical exercise had on me while I was in the throes of my depression as an adolescent. I used exercise as a distraction. I used it as an excuse to not deal with my larger, more encompassing mental/emotional problems and disorders. I would go to the gym after detention during my high school years. Rather than seeking advice from educated, trained personnel I would pump iron and run laps. As time went on I found yoga and meditation.
Lifting weights, doing cardio, practicing yoga, and meditation were/are all wonderfully helpful distractions from “getting help”. But any singular or combination is infinitely better than watching television, surfing the internet, spacing out, laying in bed awake, remembering past negative events, and/or imagining future confrontational events; all of which I am guilty of doing repeatedly if not habitually.
We are all flawed beings. We all seek to be perfect, if not at least better. We’re all doing our best, even if our best is not good enough. If physical exercise can improve our mind and our spirit, then why not set aside ten minutes, to a half hour a day a few times a week to becoming more whole and making a good faith effort to fill the hole in our soul?
The effort required to expand my comfort zone to putting the effort in there, fuels my effort to expand it elsewhere, and I hope it does for you too…