Exercise saved my life. If I look back on the connect-the-dot moments of my life, there are direct correlations between the peaks and valleys and the role exercise has played in helping me not just cope but thrive.
I was never the athletic kid, but by the time I was 12, exercise and I had forged an unbreakable bond. A couple of years earlier, when I was just 10, my father died. Suddenly. One minute he was there, the next gone. A massive coronary took him out.
After several years of crying, and lots of internalized grief, I strapped on running shoes one day, sprinted until I stopped crying, and never looked back. I had discovered a secret weapon to deal with sadness — exercise.
Since then, exercise has helped me recover from an eating disorder, deal with miscarriages, cope with sobriety and get through divorce. Most importantly, it helps me be a better parent. I run, teach fitness, lift weights and do yoga to be healthy and fit, but also because it keeps darkness at bay.
“The benefits of exercise for treating depression and anxiety (Here are 3 scenarios to help you cope.) are increasingly recognized worldwide,” says Dr. Gina Di Giulio, a clinical psychologist and director of psychology at Medcan in Toronto. “The American Psychiatric Association recently changed its guidelines to include exercise as a treatment for managing mood. Several studies suggest exercise alone can be an effective treatment for depression, and can be more effective than antidepressants for mild to moderate levels of depression.” That means for those who are hesitant to pop pills, exercise can be an effective drug-free way of managing mental health.
Just ask Tina Panos. The Canadian Armed Forces soldier developed PTSD after returning from a tour of Afghanistan and couldn’t understand what was happening: “I was filled with fury,” she recalls.
Luckily, at the time, she was playing hockey and began to recognize those immediate benefits of exercise. “After a game, I felt truly amazing,” she recalls. Desperate to hold onto that feeling, Panos started going to the gym again. “This is when things started to take a turn for the better. The minute I step inside the gym, all my troubles are left at the door. Whether it is cardio, weights or punching a heavy bag, my energy is directed in a positive way and I leave feeling better than when I arrived. Fitness is the most under-prescribed therapy there is.”