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Psychology, Sport

Bonus post: Mental health and exercise

This is an extra post this week in recognition of Bell’s Let’s Talk Day in Canada.

I’m pretty diligent with my exercise and have been for most of my life. There have been times though when I’ve been criticized for this commitment. I distinctly remember one of my office mates during my PhD questioning me as I headed off for my workout. The message was clear, I simply wasn’t committed enough to my studies if I had time to work out.

I have many reasons to exercise and sport performance is, in all honesty, one of the least important. I have some chronic injuries that are kept at bay through weight management and strength training, I enjoy snacking on some less than healthy food on occasion, and, most importantly, it helps my mental health. I can clear my head when I’m working out, focus on the moment. All the things that I can’t do when I try meditation, I can do when I’m being active. At the same time, I can be distracted by what matters in life like spending time with friends and family and connecting with nature. It also inspires my brain; my new tagline is “I was distracted by thinking”. These moments happen as I process something deeper, sometimes related to the activity itself, but sometimes just thoughts that I want to pursue personally about ideas for children’s books or blogs I want to write.

Me working on my dragon boat stroke in the North Saskatchewan River Valley in Edmonton

This is what I don’t understand about the people who critique me for committing to being active, or dare I say it, to exercise: how do you not take the time to participate? I am always more efficient in my work after I work out. I practice good time management because I need to work out. I have more than just one thing to talk about because I work out. In short, I’m healthier, happier, and more productive.

Before you think that I haven’t had any dark patches, I have. Most recently I struggled following one of my wrist surgeries. Unbeknownst to anyone, there was something happening beneath my cast (pins had moved and were getting caught) that was causing nausea inducing pain. Putting a jacket on could drop me to the ground in pain, which made it extremely difficult to be active in late fall in Edmonton. I sat on the couch and I binged movies. I honestly didn’t think I could do anything else. But I am fortunate enough to have recognized the direction I was heading, and I knew what would help me deal with it, so despite the seemingly unbearable pain, I did start moving again. It started small, I borrowed a recumbent bike so that I could do something while supporting my arm, I started going for short walks just to see nature again. One day I walked too far, but I found a quiet little patch of trees and just stood there watching the birds and a squirrel, and somewhat dreading my trip home. It helped.

I tell you all of this because personal stories are often more convincing than numbers (which perhaps needs to be a future post). But there are numbers to support experiences like mine as well. Stubbs et al (2017) looked at several randomized control trials (participants are randomized and assigned to either a test condition or a control condition) and found that exercise directly contributes to improving anxiety symptoms in people with clinical diagnoses. Rebar et al (2015) found that individuals without clinical diagnoses also benefited from physical activity through reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. And Morgan et al (2013) stated that while there hasn’t been significant research on the optimal type and dose of exercise that might be suitable for individuals with mental health disorders, practitioners should adapt exercise programs to the individual, both their circumstances and their preferences, in order to minimize barriers to “exercise medicine”.

Today marks the 10th annual Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada. This is a conversation though that needs to happen every day. Nobody should be criticized for making their mental and physical health a priority. So the next time you or someone you know heads off to exercise in any form, please congratulate yourself or them rather than critique them for their lack of commitment to something that will still be there when they get back.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “Bonus post: Mental health and exercise

  1. This is a great post. I remember when I started exercising I got a few snide comments about it. I don’t know, but I think there are some people who just don’t want to put the effort into being healthy, and when they see other people are making an effort, they resent it.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by J.S. Pailly | January 29, 2020, 7:56 pm
  2. How long do you exercise if the body does not get fat?

    Like

    Posted by read more | February 2, 2020, 7:49 am

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  1. Pingback: Let the music play: Music and anxiety | Connecting with Science - April 7, 2020

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