The Depression Manifesto Part 2: Size Matters -- Exercise!
Glad you decided to come back for Part 2. Or if you were looking for Part 1, you can find that HERE. I had initially planned this is a 2-3 parter, but it's looking like this will simply become an ongoing series. There's always new ways to tilt at the windmills of mental illness. And today's blog focuses on one in particular...
Even the worst days can be balanced by a killer workout
Picture this: it's 7pm, you just got home from work. You're starving. The garage door opener doesn't work -- you'll have to hit the store tonight or tomorrow (if you like keeping your job). You get a text from your boss and you're too afraid to even look at it. By the time you hit the sheets, you're fucking dead. And in a 24 hour span where basically everything went wrong...you still had one victory: you had the drive, grit, chutzpah, cajones to have worked out that morning. And that, at least, brings you a smile before you drift to sleep.
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
If that sounds like a pipe dream, I hear ya. Some days, especially during the winter months where it's dark and cold, exercise is the last thing on your mind. You just want to be awake, warm, and somewhere less-than-sad. But there are myriad documented reasons why exercise is one of the best tools in the toolkit for the depressed mind and body, and in this blog I'll break down the why and the how, first by discussing the importance of endorphins, then by showing you some of the easiest ways to get started, and finally sharing some of my own experience on how to keep the habit alive!
1. THE IMPORTANCE OF ENDORPHINS
Perhaps you've heard them referred to in TV or movies (often as the semi-cringeworthy 'happy endorphins) -- but to put it simply, endorphins are euphoria inducing chemicals in the brain. The word itself is a portmanteau of 'endogenous' and 'morphine', meaning endorphins are essentially your body's own version of morphine. Sign me up!
Endorphins are released whenever you exercise, meaning that you've got built-in morphine at your beck and call. All it takes is a little bit of movement to get the juices flowing, and the effect is noticeable. In fact, according to WebMD, exercise is a highly effective and underused treatment for mild to moderate depression. With 100 pounds of bench press hovering over your chest, it's hard to focus on anything else. Begone toxic thought processes. Hello biceps.
Exercising is also part of a positive feedback loop that makes it extra effective. Exercise generates endorphins, which leads to improved self esteem, which leads to an improvement in general wellness, which makes the entire process easier to kickstart again. It's like what Yoda said about the dark side, only better. Don't forget the chemical power you can control like The Force!
2. HOW TO WORK OUT, EASILY, AT HOME
Gym's are killer tools -- and for people like myself they're great at giving you a dedicated space to exercise, surrounded by likeminded people, all trying to improve themselves. If you have one at your beck and call, hit it up! Anything I put here is obviously doable at anywhere from the YMCA to Equinox. But for those of you just getting started, why make things complicated?
OPTION A: DO IT YOURSELF
Wanna work out at home ASAP? Look no further than gods gift to the home-gym: kettlebells and jump ropes.
BUT WHAT DO I USE THEM FOR?
Well, try not to brain your roommate's cat with the k-bell. But if you're looking for real routines, try:
- The 6 Best Kettlebell Exercises You Need to Do
- Jump Rope Workouts
Gents, be not alarmed by the presence of women. A great workout is a great workout.
- Ultimate Kettlebell Workout DVD
An eternal recommendation of my favorite podcaster, Joe Rogan
OPTION B: LEARN FROM THE GREATS
All routines pulled from Tim Ferriss' phenomenal TOOLS OF TITANS
Jamie Foxx’s AM workouts:
done every other day
- 15 pull-ups, 50 push-ups, 100 sit-ups
- 15 pull-ups (diff grip), 50 pushups
- 10 pull ups (first grip)
- 10 pull ups (second grip)
General Stanley McChrystal's @ Home Workout
- push ups to max reps
- 100 sit ups, 3 minute plank, 2-3 minutes of yoga
- push ups to max reps
- 50 to 100 crunch-like crossover (legs up), 2.5 minute plank, 2-3m of yoga
- push ups to max reps
- 50 to 100 crossover sit-ups, 2 min plank, 2-3m of yoga
- push ups to max reps
- 60 flutter kicks + static hold, 1.5 minute plank, set of crunches, 1 minute plank, 2-3 minutes of yoga
3. HAVE AN ATHLETIC HOBBY
The easiest way to exercise is to WANT to exercise! It's not work unless you DON'T feel like doing it, right? So why not take a look at the landscape out there for hobbies that get your blood pumpin and the endorphins flowin? Literally any moderate exercise helps. Bike, Golf, Jog, Dance, do Yoga. Garden for all I care. You can tell your rutabaga how happy you are before you eat it.
MY PITCH? GO BOULDERING!
I'll highlight a few enduring advantages for you as well.
I’m always looking for ways to sort of cross-pollinate my interests. Why not kill as many birds with as few stones as possible? So if I’m looking to get into better shape, as well as give my weekends PURPOSE (another incoming article in the Manifesto), I figured — why not do both at the same time?
For me, the answer was bouldering. We’ve got bouldering gyms all over Los Angeles (Touchstone Climbing operates two of my faves — Hollywood Boulders and Cliffs of Id). Any sport or recreation will come with a bevy of cognitive bonuses as well. Some examples from bouldering:
A public space gets you out of your house without feeling obligated to connect with anyone in particular (you can still do your own thing)
Goal-setting: every ‘problem’ on the wall is a chance for you to set a goal and take steps to achieve it. Can’t make it to the top of your newest project? What can you practice to build your skills and get there? And how damn good does it feel when you finally hit the top?
Fear-conquering: Bouldering in particular is a sport that requires leaps of faith — often literally. It doesn’t matter if you’re 2 or 20 feet off the ground. When you have to make a move, knowing full well that a miss means a fall to the (padded) ground, your monkey brain kicks the fear up to 10. Especially at first, you could be falling onto a bed of clouds — you’re still gonna be sweating bullets before you make that move. Having the chance to consistently put yourself into that position, make those big moves, and handle the (survivable) consequences no matter what, is great training for your brain.
Plus you learn how to fall in style!
That's it for Part 2 of the Depression Manifesto! Now you know about the importance of endorphins, some painfully easy ways to workout at home, as well as the perks of having an athletic hobby to buoy your spirits. Coming up next, a discussion of habits, systems, routines, and triggers -- how to know what works, and how to keep doing it!