Spokes of the Wheel is my philosophy for helping to live with bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions. In this series I discuss the Twelve Spokes, and in this blog I concentrate on what some might see as the ball and chain of being a human being – Exercise:
Ok so I get it. When you are in a low, no matter the degree or severity, the last thing you want or are able to do is move your body. And that’s normal for us. However the more exercise you do when you can, the better you will feel overall and it will help limit your depressive episodes, or at least keep them shallow.
But exercise and a healthy diet can be very difficult to maintain when you are depressed so it’s important not to be critical of yourself because it’s likely you’ll be able to return to a healthy regime when your mood improves (Miklowitz, 2011).
The way I look at it is we are machines. We have already talked about Nutrition in an earlier post and how it affects the brain and the body. Exercise, by contrast not only maintains healthy bones, muscles and organs but also reconnects your mind to your physical self. Your thoughts calm so you are one. Whole.
A few smarter doctors in Britain use exercise as the first line treatment for depression. Aerobic exercise has a positive affect on the entire range of depressive states. Hoorah! Because depression is an erosion of connections – in life as well as between your brain cells – and exercise re-establishes these connections (Ratey and Hagerman, 2009).
As a species, we are born movers but we’ve engineered movement out of our lives. Inactivity is killing our brains. Exercise cues the building blocks of the brain and affects mood, anxiety and attention; it increases serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitters that traffic in thoughts and emotions (Ratey and Hagerman, 2009). The all-important bipolar super-highway!
Intriguingly William Bloom (2013) writes that exercise stimulates endorphin production. The euphoric rush experienced during continuous exercise. Endorphins are natural biochemicals produced by our bodies that create physical pleasure, work towards healing wounded or diseased tissue, boost immune system and create emotional and mental wellbeing. I want some don’t you?
Sometimes called the elixir of life, endorphins can mitigate against chronic pain, gastro-intestinal physiology, cardiovascular regulation, respiration, immunological processes, regulation of pituitary hormones and neuroendocrine control of reproduction, as well as indirectly implicated in stress, spontaneous behaviour, learning and memory, motivation and you’ve guessed it, psychiatric disorders like bipolar.
The Endorphin Effect is a quite a breakthrough and is likely to help you to download endorphins on-demand. Once you get the hang of it!
I love exercise but probably similar to you, going to the gym and running can be inconsistent. Routine is important but it is very easy for this spoke to fall off the wheel. But I do know that regular, kind exercise keeps me pretty sane. The idea of being connected to my body and brain at the same time – as I get very cognitive and can disappear into my thoughts at the drop of a hat – is appealing and I’m sure the cells of my body remember how good it is; how great it feels.
Thankfully compassionate exercise is enjoyable. Enter the endorphins again. And like you, I like things that feel good and in control. If you want to make a difference to your lifestyle and how you feel then it’s time to start moving if you haven’t already. After all, exercise is for producing changes (Ferriss, 2010). And when stuck, a change is what we all need.
Echoing Ratey and Hagerman’s mantra in their 2009 must-read book, Spark – How Exercise Will Improve The Performance Of Your Brain – Grab your gym bag instead of your remote. Try an hour of exercise a day. When you do, you’ll be on fire!
Tune into the next instalment of my Twelve Spokes of the Wheel philosophy: Meditation, by following us or signing up for Psyche Pow! email updates.
Coming very soon.
Be well and stay hopeful. Ben
Bloom, William. The Endorphin Effect. London: Piatkus, 2001. Print
Miklowitz, David J. The Bipolar Survival Guide. New York: Guildford Press, 2011. Print
Ferriss, Timothy. The 4-Hour Body. New York: Crown Archetype, 2010. Print.
Ratey, John Dr, and Eric Hagerman. Spark! How Exercise Will Improve The Performance Of Your Brain. London: Quercus, 2009. Print.