Health Activist Choice Day 12: Write about whatever you want today! (The Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge, #HAWMC)
Many Americans think of exercise as a punishment similar to filing taxes or going to the DMV. The other day I was having dinner with a group of friends when one of them said he’s having problems with energy and getting up in the morning for work (who hasn’t felt that way at some point?). I asked, “Have you tried exercising?” Everyone immediately laughed at the idea. What I was going to explain is that exercise can help us manage stress and regulate sleep-wake cycles. Once upon a time, I too thought exercise was a chore. But over the past few years, I’ve realized that exercise is vital in helping me manage stress and fight depression. This is critical for me as someone with bipolar disorder.
Mobility and Exercise are Privileges
Getting diagnosed with my autoimmune disease, Myasthenia Gravis (MG), when I was 24-years old, changed my view of exercise. The neurologist said I had a 50/50 shot of living. I had many medical procedures and I was bedridden for over a year. These days, I view mobility as a gift. While I carry a cane, I know there are many people who are less mobile than I am including friends of mine who battle muscular dystrophy. Exercise is a privilege. On the days when I am physically able, I exercise. While I can’t do the things I used to do before MG, I am thankful for activities I can do like Pilates.
4 Psychological Benefits of Exercise
- Fighting stress and depression: I previously blogged about “triggers,” which are events that precede episodes of depression and hypomania. I know one of my triggers is a really hectic schedule. When I have a busy season ahead, I start exercising more frequently before the situation gets out of control and I find myself severely depressed. Exercising releases endorphins, the “feel good hormones,” which make us feel better about our lives and ourselves. While exercise is not the only tool I use for managing bipolar disorder (and is not a substitute for prescribed bipolar meds), it is an essential part of my “Resilience Tool Kit.” After I exercise, even if it was only fifteen minutes, I feel much better about life although my problems haven’t disappeared.
- Getting creative juices flowing: Got a problem at work that you can’t solve? Have an assignment for school that seems impossible? Try a cardio workout. Studies show that the mind is stimulated up to two hours after exercise.
- Releasing aggression: Are you dealing with difficult people? Feel trapped? Got relationship problems? Does your superior at work lose important documents and blame it on you? Do you live with someone who can’t control his temper? Since you probably can’t throttle the person aggravating you (please don’t), release your anger through exercise. I find that I do my best cardio when someone’s pissed me off (whoops; pardon my French).
- Regulating sleep/wake cycles: Sixty million Americans struggle with insomnia. Combined with light therapy, (which was something my doctor prescribed), exercise has helped me fight insomnia. For years, insomnia was something I struggled with almost daily because of hypomanic episodes caused by bipolar disorder. As an adult, I have to balance the complications caused by physical pain from MG and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Some nights I’m up until 3am screaming in pain. The next day it’s a challenge to get back into a regular sleep-wake cycle. But getting enough sleep is an essential part of managing bipolar disorder. Despite the disruptions in my cycle, exercise makes my body want to get up in the morning and it makes me want to sleep at night. While my sleep-wake cycle isn’t perfect, exercise has greatly improved it. And kept me from losing my sanity.
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno