I tend to think of my friends as being in one of two categories: “Training” or “Other”.
My social circle consists of people I know through work or sport (which for me, is essentially the same thing). Then there are the friends who I have met in other ways; friends from school perhaps, or old housemates who I have stayed in touch with, and so on.
I was at a party recently where I caught up with lots of old friends who I hadn’t seen in a while. I was shocked by how many of them seemed to be struggling. I found myself having the same conversation again and again with people; so many of them seemed to have been affected by mental health issues including depression and addiction. At one point, I was at a table with seven other men (all late twenties to late thirties) and I was the only one who hadn’t been treated for depression at some point.
I was unprepared for this and genuinely shocked. I wasn’t used to hearing this from the friends I probably spend the most time with (gym buddies, training colleagues, etc).
Why was this happening? Why was one of my social groups so badly affected by mental health issues, while the other circle of friends seemed to be escaping relatively unscathed? The answer seems obvious, if simplistic:Exercise. Training. Sport. Physical activity.Whatever you want to call it, there is an undeniable link between how active a person is, and their mental health.
Now, I want to make it clear that I am not so naïve as to say that everyone with mental health issues will be instantly “cured” of their problems by going for a run, there is so much more to it than that, of course. Many psychological problems including clinical depression, anxiety and addiction need the appropriate help from professionals (medical intervention, counselling etc).
However, there are so many ways that getting regular exercise can benefit us psychologically. Personally, I think that the mental benefits of training can often outweigh the physical benefits for a lot of people. Training results in a release of endorphins that combats stress, levels our mood and has a very positive effect on our brain chemistry. I personally know a number of people who have been able to actually discontinue what medication they had been taking for depression (under doctor’s order of course) after taking up a sport or a training programme.
There are other reasons that exercise will help those of us who are struggling: it improves sleep quality. It gives a routine where one may be lacking. It can create a new social circle for anyone who might be having trouble meeting new people. Being fitter and stronger gives people a real lift in self-esteem; looking and feeling better is a great confidence-booster.
In the most basic way, training makes us feel good.
If you are struggling, please do consider how exercise could help you. Talk to a friend about what is going on; ask them to go for a run with you, or a bike ride, or to accompany you to a kickboxing class or to view the local gym. You WILL be glad you did it.