Exercise Literally Saved My Life!

Mark BeckerI had no idea what lie ahead on that fateful day in late March 2011. I went to work that day just like I had been doing the past 10 years. I worked in the natural products industry. I loved my job. I felt fulfilled by my job in health. However, at the end of the day, I was without a job. The economic downtime was in full swing. And I was the latest casualty. What was I going to do? I had 4- and 6-year-old boys. My wife wasn’t working. And I had a mortgage that was suffocating.

One month later, I realized the inevitable. My marriage was in disrepair. It had been so bad for so long. I left my wife and filed for divorce.

A few months later, still unemployed and, at age 51, living with my parents, I made a decision that would change my life. I would pursue sole custody of my boys.

A few months later I was forced to sell my home. I sold my home, but had to pay $34,000 to do so.

My fall was meteoric to say the least. I went from living in a million dollar home on the beach in Southern, California to being broke and living with my parents in pursuit of a job and custody of my two little boys.  And all of this happened within a span of months.

It was the perfect storm. What would I do? An unforgiving economy coupled with an unforgiving judicial system for appointing sole custody for loving Dads made for a seemingly prodigious mountain to climb. I had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I was a financial mess. I was clinically depressed. I felt suicidal.

What did I do? I went to the gym. I went early and I went often. And it saved my life. It really did.

Mark BeckerDramatic Impact on Mental Health

So many people fail to realize the profound impact exercise has on your general health. The traditional benefits of exercise cannot be understated. If you want to feel better, have more energy and even live longer, exercise is the very best medicine. The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are undisputable and yours for the taking, regardless of age, sex or physical ability. In fact, according to mayoclinic.com, exercise:

  • Controls weight
  • Helps to combat health conditions and diseases
  • Improves mood
  • Increases energy
  • promotes better sleep
  • Significantly increases libido
  • Can be fun

That said, I believe exercise has its greatest impact on mental health. Exercise decreases stress hormones, including cortisol, as well as increases endorphins.  And endorphins are the body’s natural feel good chemicals. When they are released through exercise, mood and mental outlook are dramatically boosted naturally. This is often referred to as a “runner’s high”. Additionally, exercise releases adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine, chemicals that work beautifully together to make you feel good – very good!  My daily endorphin push was crucial for me.

From a clinical perspective, endorphins are defined as hormone-like substances that are produced in the brain and function as the body’s natural painkillers.  During exercise, endorphins are released and this can produce feelings of euphoria and a general state of wellbeing.  Endorphins can be so powerful that they actually mask pain.  Physically active people recover from depression much more quickly. Physical activity is strongly correlated with good mental health as people age.

Exercise Therapy

In fact, studies show that people who exercise regularly realize a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression. “Exercise Therapy” is not yet widely accepted, but this treatment is free and has no side effects. Compare that with antidepressant drugs which cost Americans $10 billion each year.

The phenomena that exercise is crucial to good health — both mental and physical — is nothing new. As early as the 1970s, observational studies showed that Americans who exercised were not only less likely to be depressed, but also less likely to become depressed in the future.

Interestingly, in 1999, Duke University researchers demonstrated in a randomized controlled clinical trial that depressed adults who participated in an aerobic exercise routine improved as much as those treated with sertraline, the medication marketed as Zoloft. This drug was earning Pfizer more than $3 billion annually before its patent expired in 2006.

Subsequent trials have repeated these results, showing that patients who follow aerobic exercise regimens see improvement in their depression comparable to people treated with medication. To be fair, most of the exercise trials have been narrow. However, despite limited data, the trials all seem to indicate that exercise boosts mood and reduces depression. In fact, exercise not only relieves depressive symptoms but also appears to prevent them from recurring.

My exercise routine included a combination of cardio and resistance training workouts. The endorphin push I referred to earlier is typically felt during aerobic exercise. However, resistance training may also produce the same results. Do what’s best for you. They key is to alleviate those depressive symptoms any way you can.

Many of the ancillary benefits exercise has on mental health are often not widely regarded.  However, I have personally experienced the following psychological and emotional benefits above and beyond what has been previously stated:

  • Promotes increased self-esteem: Accomplishing short- and long-term exercise goals can significantly improve self-confidence. It is very gratifying to not only accomplish exercise goals and objectives, but you will also see dramatic improvement in physical appearance, which is another confidence booster.
  • Provides a positive diversion: Exercise, especially going to the gym or an exercise class, places you in a positive, upbeat environment. It provides an outlet where you can remove yourself from the negativity that consumes you.  This negativity will only feed anxiety and depression.
  • Allows for more social contact: Exercise is, by nature, social. A trip to the gym or an exercise class promotes social interaction. The most subtle smile, greeting or conversation can dramatically lift your mood and minimize depression.
  • Provides a healthy outlet: People that are depressed must channel their activities in a positive way. Don’t turn to alcohol or recreational drugs as a way to forget about your problems. Doing something positive to manage anxiety or depression is a healthy coping strategy. It works! Rarely does anxiety or depression go away on its own. In fact, symptoms can get worse if you don’t address depressive symptoms with positive energy.

Additionally, exercise improves circulation which can also minimize depressive symptoms. When blood pumps faster, circulation increases which promotes feelings of alertness and energy. Furthermore, when your body looks better, you feel better! A legitimate physical regimen will help you lose weight, will increase your muscularity and even makes your skin look healthier. In fact, you will just plain carry yourself differently. It doesn’t take long before people start complimenting you. I don’t care who you are. When you look in the mirror and like what you see, you naturally feel better. This helped me considerably when my depression was at its worst.

As previously mentioned, the importance of exercise cannot be understated. Exercise is not only important for your heart, but also for your head as well. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress. People who exercise experience the restorative power of exercise and this has been verified in clinical trials that have used exercise to treat anxiety and depression. Exercise was truly the best medicine for me. It can be for you too.


About Mark Becker

Mark Becker has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 15 years. He has written more than 250 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor's in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For almost 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 100 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors.

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6 years ago

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