Like sleep, exercise is one of those things that we know is good for our health. It’s been hammered into us for years and years. It can be a lot of fun or hard work. If you do just enough it feels great. If you push too hard it can be excruciating.
I’ve been hearing about the benefits of exercise for my entire life and it’s said so often that it’s almost lost meaning. It’s like when you say a word, like balloon, over and over for a minute. Try it. You stop thinking of a balloon as an object and it becomes more abstract.
Even so, I know that when I exercise I feel a lot happier. It’s almost like an easy way to feel good. Especially when I’m able to listen to music when I do it. That’s a double whammy of awesomeness.
Since I’ve lived in my current home I’ve done a lot of walking. We live very close to a lake and there’s a nice, stroller friendly trail around it. The walk down there also crosses a train track and goes close to a fire station. My three-year-old is always happy to see trains and fire engines.
Even when I was pregnant and physically struggling I would go for a walk a couple of times a week. It feels nice to get out even if every step hurts. We live in such a beautiful place that it was worth the discomfort. I was looking forward to walking down there with both of my kids in the double stroller.
But my depression does not want me to move. I’ve found that since my second child was born I have trouble moving to do anything. Even just getting myself a glass of water was difficult.
I suppose I should say that I had difficultly moving to do things for myself. I always forced myself to do whatever my children needed. I guess my parenting instinct is stronger than my depression. I’m thankful for that.
Even on those days that I felt physically and mentally motivated to exercise I had to deal with the anxiety as well. This made getting out the door very, very hard. Often I just stayed home.
Why is exercise so important?
The psychiatrist and councillor have both talked to me about the importance of exercise in my recovery. They both said it was important that I do 30 minutes a day at lease three times a week.
There are a few theories about why exercise helps improve feelings of depression. Exercise may cause a chemical change in the brain. As you exercise endorphins are released and create a feeling of well-being. The more you exercise, up to a point, the more your brain adapts to this feeling and the more you want to exercise. It sounds, to me, like exercise creates a positive cycle which counteracts the negative cycle I feel with my depression.
It’s also possible that exercise improves self-esteem. Depression and negative self-esteem often go hand in hand. By improving your self-esteem is it possible to improve your mood and lift your depression? I don’t know but it sounds possible to me.
Another possibility is that exercising gives you a break from the constant bombarding of noise and other distractions that come from having children. This rings true for me. I get very overwhelmed, particularly by sounds, and I’ll often have to put on noise cancelling headphones to calm down. Exercise gives me a break from the noise and allows me to reset my brain almost.
I found this article about the effects of exercise on postpartum depression particularly interesting.
What kind of exercise?
When I start to think about the possibilities there are so many it becomes overwhelming. Walking, dancing, weights, running, cycling, yoga, swimming, soccer, basketball, tennis, martial arts. Too many choices for me to deal with when I’m struggling to make decisions in my day to day life.
I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube lately and this video came up on my home page. I found it really interesting and a learnt a few things I didn’t know. One point really resonated with me. It doesn’t matter what you do for exercise just make sure it’s fun.
This makes so much sense to me. Especially when I’m already feeling down. That helps narrow down my list of possible exercise. Bye-bye basketball, weights and running.
The current pandemic also limits what is available to me. The pool is open in my building but it’s an indoor pool and there are a lot of at-risk people who use it. They have limited exercise options as it is and I don’t want to put them more at risk so I’ve chosen not to use the pool for now. Bye-bye swimming.
Then there’s things that I just don’t have time to do. Bye-bye soccer, tennis and martial arts. And cycling is out because it’s something I only like to do with my husband (he’s a moderately serious cyclist who rides about 40km a day). We can’t go cycling as a family because our newborn is just too little to go on the bike.
So, that narrows it down to walking, dancing and yoga. Perfect. That’s a much more manageable list.
Walking has been more of a transportation thing for me lately. I’m not comfortable taking the kids on the bus or train so we walk where we need to go. There’s lots around us so it’s perfect.
Something I’ve always enjoyed is dancing. It the last few years I got into Zumba. I have a Zumba game on my Xbox that I used to play daily.
I decided to try some Zumba videos from YouTube and see how I felt. Within 10 minutes I was smiling. It was the first really genuine happy feeling I’d had since my baby was born. So, I guess I found what works for me.
Exercise or Activity?
I feel like even on days I don’t have time or the mental capacity for exercise I should be active. Even if it’s just walking from one side of my apartment to the other. It’s something and something is better than nothing.
I have a mini stepper and a standing desk, so when I was working on my computer I stated using that. I’m actually using it right now. I find it helps my focus because it’s a physical activity combined with a mental activity and that helps me eliminate distractions.
I really think that even if you’re not dealing with depression, anxiety or other mood disorders, exercise can help. The most important thing is to find something that works for you and lets you have fun and take care of your body. It’s also worth discussing with your health care provider before you start so they can advise you on what’s safe for you to do.