You're right, the headline is a very strange one! Exercise is vital to maintain good health and most of the time, the benefits of exercise far out-weigh the drawbacks. But if you suffer from a stressful or a depressive illness, exercise can actually make you feel worse. But how can this be?
I'm sure you've heard the following statement over and over again: exercise can help you to beat stress, or alleviate anxiety or boost a depressed mind. This is only true in part. Because many exercises can actually worsen these illnesses. And even if you perform exercises that can help, these exercises will only help temporarily.
The reason many people believe exercise to be helpful in combating stressful and depressive illnesses is because when you exercise vigorously for longer than 20 minutes, your body floods with endorphins. These chemicals give us a buzz, and this is why it is widely believed that exercise can cure stress, depression or anxiety.
If you're suffering a stressful or depressive episode, you'll know that no matter how regularly you exercise, the bad feelings return. The only way to beat these illnesses is to treat the root cause – flawed modes of thinking. Exercise, though great for our bodies, simply doesn't do anything to address modes of thinking.
When my anxiety was at it's worst back in 2000, I exercised 4 times a week. For 2 days, I'd perform weight-training exercises. These exercises are the type of exercise that can actually make you feel worse because you have time to think about all of the issues and problems you have in your life at the time. I'd also warm up and warm down on bike machines or cross-trainers. Again, you can perform these exercises easily so you can think about your problems.
For my other workouts, I'd perform instructor-led circuit training sessions. As you're listening out for instructions and performing sequences of exercises at a high tempo, you don't have time to dwell on your troubles and worries. The problem is that once you stop exercising, you return to the modes of thinking which lead to stress, depression or anxiety.
As soon as my workout had finished, I'd perform flawed modes of thinking, that made me anxious and depressed. Exercising did very little to stop me performing these flawed thought processes.
Do be aware of what's happening when you exercise. Exercises that don't require much concentration may have you brooding over your troubles as you perform them. Jogging, walking, exercise machines, weight-training are all examples of such exercises. Instead, try ones that are more intensive or competitive so your whole concentration is required. Circuit-training worked for me, so did sports like soccer and badminton.
The idea is to give yourself a period of time where you're not thinking about your problems and worries. And of course, you'll do your body a whole heap of good too!
The point here is to understand that exercise can only provide temporary relief. The only way to find permanent relief from your suffering is to understand and address flawed modes of thinking. And, just as physical exercise benefits our bodies, mental skills leading to better modes of thinking will bring enormous benefits to our minds.
The following quote sums it up in a nutshell:
"Thought can make you, thought can break you." - Swami Sukhabodhanada
Until next time.
By Christopher Green
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