Exercises (1-4)

       I have a gym membership, and after a lot of trial and error, I am now able to use it.  I say that because I don't want to give the impression that I think gyms are bad, because I don't. An upcoming post is going to be on the benefits of gyms.

       With my conditions, in the beginning it was simply easier to exercise outside. In some ways, it is also better for me to exercise outdoors, which is why I do more than half of my fitness routine outside the gym.

       When I was first exploring which activities would be best suited for my needs, I found quite a lot of research about the benefits of exercising outdoors vs. indoors. I also found that there were many practical reasons for getting active outside.

       I live in an area where the temperatures can vary by more than eighty degrees throughout the year. In the summer the humidity can be as high as ninety percent. In the winter, snow and ice can make it difficult to walk, much less run. I have had to learn to be creative. There are several reasons that I still go to great lengths to exercise outside. First, I’ll give the  practical reasons, and then the scientific ones.

1.  Exercising outdoors is free, and all I have to do is walk out my front door to do it. Sometimes just getting out of bed is a monumental task. On those days, if I have to get in my car and drive somewhere that is loud, sweaty, full of perky people, has televisions blaring the news and is full of equipment that I (in the beginning) didn't know how to use, then I am probably not going to exercise. There are ways around those obstacles, but that is for the post about gyms. Simply stepping out my door and going for a brisk walk down the street is all that is required to get my endorphins pumping and to drastically improve my mood. On bad days, I am much more likely to summon the courage to do that than anything else. Walking and jogging are my go-to exercises and all I have to do is to make it out my front door to do them.

2.  Being outside reconnects me to the world. I don't mean as in watching the news, but in the immediate world around me. If I am walking from home, then I am in the city. On the days that I don't want to leave my room, but force myself out for a brisk walk, I see people are going on about their lives. That gives me hope that I can do the same. If I am able to drive to a nature trail or greenway, then the effect is astonishing. Seeing the trees, hearing the birds and feeling the breeze is meditation in motion for me. Obviously, everyone's  surroundings are different. When I have to travel, I find different city walks and different types of nature trails to have the same effect as they do here in my immediate vicinity.

3.  Another nice thing about being outside is I can’t quit. If I feel horrible, or my brain is on overload, it is easy to step off of cardio equipment or to stop using a resistance machine, and slip out of the gym. However, if I just walked or jogged a certain distance and decide that I don’t have it in me to do it that day, I can’t just stop. I have to get back to where I started. If I just jogged two miles out, I at least have to walk two miles back. Unless I’m in the city and take a cab, it’s a foolproof plan.

 4.  The journal Environmental Science and Technology published findings in 2011 which indicate exercising outdoors is more beneficial for those with mental illnesses. "The study found that most trials showed an improvement in mental well-being: compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date." Not only do the benefits appear to be greater when exercise is done outside, people, myself included, are more likely to do it again. Those are two very important factors when I am deciding on whether to go to the gym or go outside.

5.  The National Institutes of Health have found similar results in their studies. In several different trials, volunteers were asked to go for two walks for the same time or distance — one inside, usually on a treadmill or around a track, the other outdoors. Nearly all of the volunteers reported enjoying the outside activity more. On psychological tests following the activities, the participants scored significantly higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem and lower on tension, depression and fatigue after they walked outside compared to inside.

6.  People’s strides are different when walking or running outdoors. Also, occasionally, they go downhill, a movement that can’t be done on a treadmill. Going downhill stresses muscles differently than running on flat or uphill terrain. Because of that, outdoor exercise tends to be more strenuous than the indoor version. In studies comparing the exertion of walking or running on a treadmill compared to the exertion of walking or running outside, treadmill users expended less energy to cover the same distance as compared to those who were outdoors.

7.  Finally, being out in the sun is vital for me. I suffer from my depressive symptoms much worse during the winter months. Others, who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), tend to only suffer during the winter. Either way, The Mayo Clinic offers this advice, "Get outside. Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help."

       For whatever reason, when I was first starting, I truly believed that I needed to go to the gym to experience the full benefits of exercise. As Dr. Jacqueline Kerr, professor at the University of California San Diego wrote, "After all, despite the fitness industry boom we are not seeing changes in national physical activity levels, so gyms are not the answer." That doesn’t mean that gyms can’t be part of the answer; it just means that they aren’t the entire answer. There are times that I am extremely grateful for my gym.

       However, getting outside is simple, free and engaging. It doesn’t overwhelm me. It doesn’t allow me to quit. It is usually more enjoyable. Science has proven that I get better psychological and physiological results from exercising outdoors. Studies show that people, myself included, are much more likely to continue to exercise if they do it outside, and to top it all off my serotonin levels get an additional boost from the sunshine. If you can’t tell, I am a strong proponent. If you are a gym lover, I promise to cover your true love as well.
Receive A Weekly Update by email
Follow on: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Google+
(click links on left)
As always I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes with eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the right and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource, and is staffed by wonderful people.
Feel free to send your questions or comments to:

       I believe the concept of a gym is a wonderful thing. Many people who don't deal with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorders are able to go to a gym and enjoy it fully, without any extra effort. I am not one of those people. I do have a gym membership, and yes, I do go. 

       The manner in which I run makes it nearly impossible for me to run on consecutive days. I like to push my limits whenever I lace up my running shoes. That means my body takes a bit of a beating. The next day, I need a low impact activity so that my joints and tendons can recover. When I was starting my exercise program I didn't need to go to the gym. I found that walks didn't require rest days. As I slowly progressed however, I wanted to be able to mix things up and exercise as often as possible. 

       I can't afford an elliptical machine, a stationary bike or a set of weights. I can afford a membership to an inexpensive gym that has those pieces of equipment. There are many fancy and expensive gyms out there, but I found that all I want is to be able to get my endorphins pumping on days that I can't run. I also want to get a little stronger. Since some readers live in areas that don't have gyms readily available, I will be putting up a post on low impact exercises that I do at home soon. 

       So, I am a person who has access to an inexpensive gym, and I want to be able to go.  I face several problems though. Gyms are an assault on the senses, (loud, bright, televisions flickering, etc.) which can lead me to become overwhelmed quickly. Add to that the fact that they are awash in sweat, germs, perky people and equipment that, in the beginning, I didn't know how to use, and it is easy to see why it took me so long to learn how to navigate a gym. After many failed attempts I finally figured out the strategies that work best for me when it comes to the gym.

1.  To cancel out all the sounds and put myself in a calmer frame of mind I always wear headphones. I like the type that fill my ear canals with that mushy rubber/plastic. Then, I put on music that relaxes me, but doesn't make me want to go to sleep. I like to turn it up to the point that I can't hear anything that is going on around me. Soothing music drowning out all the noise is a must for me.

2.  I solve the problem of the gym being bright, full of people and televisions with several techniques. If I have contacts in, I take them out when I get inside. I try to wear my glasses though. When I wear my glasses I can simply get to the machine and then take them off. There are the lucky few who can see well without the aid of glasses or contacts. When I forget my contact solution or case and am forced to see my surroundings, I simply close my eyes. I noticed that a lot of the people who seemed to be exercising the hardest often had their eyes squinted or closed. So, if others can close their eyes while they're working out because they are putting forth so much effort, then I can do the same thing to block others out (not to mention that I get to look like I am really working hard too, even if I'm not -hehe).

3.  All the sweat and germs that are rampant in gyms makes my skin crawl. Instead of waiting to wipe down my machine after I workout, I wipe it down with the sanitizer sprays that gyms have, as if I were going to conduct surgery on it, before I get on it. Yes, I wipe it down afterwards too. Knowing that I cleaned the machine to my satisfaction before I get on it and not relying on someone else to do the job alleviates my anxieties.

4.  When I was first starting out I had no idea how to use the resistance machines, much less how to lift free weights. I started with the machines because they are the simplest to learn. Typically there is a diagram on the machine showing exactly how to use it and which muscle group it works. As time has gone by I have added in free weights as well. I simply watched as many YouTube videos as I could on using free weights. I am not interested in becoming bulky or "ripped" in the least. However, I am interested in being stronger and more fit. All the fitness experts agree, that unless people use steroids or lift heavy weights for years, they have no reason to be concerned about adding major bulk or getting "ripped". 

       In addition to being stronger and more fit, lifting weights can also help alleviate many of the symptoms of mental illnesses. Many believe that cardio is the only way to get endorphin levels high enough to get relief from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder symptoms. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that cardio is better overall for immediate relief from those disorders, but there is a way around that if someone wants to use resistance resistance machines/lift weights. It is called circuit training. 

       Circuit training is simply using resistance machines/lifting weights without a break in between exercises. For example, after I work my triceps, I go directly to working my chest, then to my biceps, then to my back, then to my shoulders, etc. I do all my exercises one time through and then take a few minutes to catch my breath. I repeat that for three complete sets of each muscle group that I want to work. 

       It took a long time to be able to do that, and I made the mistake of trying to do too much in the beginning. I was so sore and exhausted after the first few times that I thought I would never do it again. I learned that I simply had to ease my way into it. The reason I went to such great lengths to do this is because of all the benefits. I found mounds of research espousing the benefits of doing resistance training/weight lifting. The following are a few bullet points from The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine (4) 5 377-396. They sum up, in a general way, some the research I found.
Resistance training studies demonstrate that it is a meaningful intervention for people suffering from anxiety.

       A reduction in depressive symptoms is a typical byproduct of resistance training participation.
The research shows that depressed persons with sleep disorders show a 30% improvement in sleep from a regular resistance training intervention. These results appear to become most effective after 8-10 weeks of consistent resistance training.

       Finally, resistance training appears to improve the body's central nervous system functioning which could positively affect a person's mental health. Improved cognition from exercise is likely to be multi-factorial adaptations involving new nerve cell generation in the brain.

       Going to the gym was a difficult road for me to learn to navigate, but once I did it was absolutely worthwhile. Low impact cardio machines that allow me to get my endorphins soaring while giving my joints and tendons a break is extraordinarily helpful. Resistance machines/free weights allow me to get a little stronger, reduce the symptoms of my illnesses and improve my overall health. After a great deal of effort, I have learned to be a fan of the gym. 
Receive A Weekly Update by email
Follow on: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Google+
(click links on left)
As always I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the right and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource, and is staffed by wonderful people. 
Feel free to send your questions or comments to:

       I have to admit that I resisted trying yoga for quite a long time. I had a preconceived notion in my mind that it wouldn't be strenuous enough to help relieve my symptoms, and I honestly didn’t think that I had the patience to sit through a class of stretching. Thankfully, as has so often been the case, I was wrong.

       I had read many studies espousing the benefits of yoga on both mental and physical wellbeing, but I was too stubborn to believe that it could work for me. What finally broke down the barriers I had built up in my mind was when I read something that Meb Keflezighi wrote. Meb won the Boston Marathon last year. He was the first American to do so in 30 years, and he was thirty-seven when he did it! He was talking about how yoga and Pilates had helped him win when he wrote, “Here I am, a world-class marathoner, and this simple movement is making my legs shake. It reinforced my belief that there are always ways to improve and new things to learn.” I decided, as soon as I read those words, that I was going to try it. 

       When I accepted that researchers, millions of devoted participants and Meb Keflezighi couldn't all be wrong, I was able to try it with an open mind. I am so glad that I did, because in doing so I have found a great deal of relief from my symptoms and improved my athletic performance.

       Honestly, I was shocked at the results I was getting after only a few weeks. I felt wonderful afterwards, and I did get relief from many of my symptoms. Who knew? Oh yes, all those researchers and millions of fanatical participants; that’s who knew. 

       There is something incredibly powerful about being mindful of my breath while stretching and flexing different muscle groups. It brings me a great deal of peace and serenity. I have also noticed that I’m less sore and recover faster after long runs when I incorporate yoga into my weekly exercise routines. 

       In short, yoga is a wonderful form of exercise. It is a low impact, and most often a low intensity activity, which is exactly the type of exercise many people need. I can do it for free in my own living room (there are 7,810,000 free videos on YouTube) or in a class setting. If the weather is bad, and I don't have time to get to the gym, yoga can easily be added into my schedule.

       There are many different types of yoga, with different levels and areas of focus. There are even classes and videos that are designed with a person's age in mind. I've found that no matter what type of yoga I have tried, they all seem to help me both mentally and physically.

       Instead of trying to pick through, and then list, the best examples of the studies done on yoga and its benefits I am going to point out the work done by Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy and his colleagues. They reviewed sixteen of the best studies done so far on yoga and mental illness. He is a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University Medical center. He and his team’s findings were recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. It was entitled Yoga on our minds: a systematic review of yoga for neuropsychiatric disorders

       Dr. Doraiswamy recently did an interview about the study in which he stated, Most individuals already know that yoga produces some kind of a calming effect. Individually, people feel better after doing the physical exercise. We thought it’s time to see if we could pull all [the literature] together to see if there was enough evidence that the benefits individual people notice can be used to help people with mental illness.” 

       Their findings suggest that yoga does have a positive effect on depression and sleep problems, and it improves the symptoms of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and ADHD. It is believed that yoga influences neurotransmitters like serotonin, lowers inflammation, reduces oxidative stress and produces a healthier balance of lipids—just as other forms of exercise do.

       There has also been a great deal of research funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the United States. As a result of those studies many veterans’ centers now use yoga as a form of treatment for PTSD, anxiety and sleeplessness. 

        An important point here is that no one is saying that people should abandon their other treatments, and replace them with yoga. On the contrary, just as with other forms of exercise, yoga seems to work best in conjunction with other forms of therapy. 

       Dr. Doraiswamy addressed this specifically when he said, “What we are saying is that we still need to do further, large-scale studies before we are ready to conclude that people with mental illnesses can turn to yoga as a first-line treatment. We are not saying throw away your Prozac and turn to yoga. We’re saying it has promise and potential. If a large national study were done, it could turn out that yoga is just as good and may be a low cost alternative to people with unmet needs.” Until then, he points out that patients could add yoga to existing treatments so they can take advantage of any potential benefits.
Receive A Weekly Update by email
Follow on: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Google+

(click links on left)
As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the right and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource, and is staffed by wonderful people. 
Feel free to send your questions or comments to:

Here is an example of a thirty minute, stress reducing, yoga routine that can be done in a living room or bedroom.

       The data that has been coming in from researchers all over the world is confirming the long-held belief that walking in nature is good for mental and physical health. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart because when I began my quest for better health, this is one of the first things I was able to do to help improve my life.

       I had decided to break down all the research that has come in, as normal, that proves how incredible a simple walk on a nature trail or in a beautiful park can be for our health. I was going to cover the lowered anxiety scores, lowered blood pressure readings, lowered symptoms of depression, improved cardiovascular performance and greatly improved rumination scores. I decided against that.

       Instead, I want to share some of the things I've seen/experienced on my walks, hikes and runs in nature. I'm going to put up a few pictures I've taken and post a one-minute video of a hike I did last Friday. If anyone wants the data, much of it can be found in Outdoor Exercise and Mental Illnesses1 or in the links at the bottom of the page. Science and data are always wonderful motivators for me, but so is the beauty found in Nature. I was tempted to put up pictures of grand wildernesses that I've taken. Instead, I've gone with pictures of ordinary things, in ordinary places, to demonstrate the philosophy that I believe in: What I look at isn't nearly as important as what I decide to see. I hope the silly titles help illustrate that point.

       First things first, I want to be clear. In the beginning, I wasn't able to walk for very long or for very far, but I kept at it. I've mentioned before that the last time I came home from a mental ward I wasn't able to walk for more than five minutes due to my obesity and the swelling in my feet from all the medications I was having to take. As you can probably tell from the first picture, I wasn't walking far, and I wasn't running anywhere (I was actually over thirty pounds heavier than this the last time I came home from a mental ward). However, small steps are infinitely better than no steps! Those humble beginnings, those small first steps, helped lead me to this life that I love. Going for outdoor walks was/is a key ingredient in my wellness plan.

       Below is the video from last week's hike and a few pictures I've taken while walking, hiking and running in nature. I hope you enjoy them and that they may inspire someone to step out their front door and go for a walk. It could be the small step in the right direction that changes someone's life. We never know unless we try.















City Park

       Obviously, I am not a photographer and all of those pictures were taken in public parks and nature trails around our house or around whatever little vacation spot my family and I may have been at (I always look up public parks and nature trails when we travel). The point is, nature is everywhere. Even in the city, it's never far away. People don't have to take a trip to Alaska, the Outback or the Serenghetti to go for a walk in nature and improve their health. 

Receive A Weekly Update by email
Follow on: Twitter / Instagram / Facebook / Google+
(click links on left)
       As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click this link and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a fantastic resource and is staffed by wonderful people.
Feel free to send your questions or comments to: