I never thought I’d be interested in cycling. It’s easily been a good ten years since I last rode a bike. But since I’ve been living in Western Australia, I’ve found myself cycling regularly. It certainly helps that the weather in Perth is far more conducive to an outdoor lifestyle compared to England, my home country. Although being one of the windiest cities in the world, one has to be prepared to battle a stiff breeze every now and again. But with dedicated cycling lanes and beautiful long stretches of coastline to make what could be a chore rather enjoyable, it’s easy to see why cycling is so popular in a city like Perth.
But it’s not just Perth’s beautiful weather that entices me to cycle. It certainly isn’t my love of lycra either – I’m not about to join the lycra clad cycling powerhouses that whiz past me as if they’re training for the Tour de France. Actually, my reasons are far more personal.
You see, when I was in my mid twenties I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Over the years I’ve lost count of all the different things I’ve tried to rid myself, or at the very least, help me live with this horrendous illness. From the conventional route – by that I mean different types of prescribed medication – to the extreme option of electric shock therapy, and pretty much everything else in between (like counseling and alternative healing therapies), you name it I’ve probably tried it.
Which brings me to cycling. Born from a desperation I guess, to lead some kind of a happier life, I’ve discovered that exercising has many benefits to help people like me who have depression. It’s proven that regular exercise is good for depressive illnesses and I know it helps me – at least on those better days, when I’m able to muster up enough energy to get out of the house, whether it’s for a cycle or a walk.
Putting myself out there, in the great outdoors, gives me head space and, if I’m lucky, an opportunity to press pause on my day-to-day battle with depression. It’s an escape if you like. I get to put some fresh air into my lungs, feel the sun on my face, marvel at a blue sky and just lose myself in the open road for a little bit.
Of course, it’s not a fix. No form of exercise is going to cure my clinical depression. I still have days where I can’t find the motivation, energy or interest to even make it outside the house. But I know the benefits; I’ve experienced them first hand. And even though exercising when you have depression can be a vicious circle, I know that I will feel better for it. Which is why it’s so important to find a way to struggle on; to maintain some kind of life and make the best of a bad situation.
If cycling doesn’t sound like your thing, here’s a few more suggestions to help release those endorphins (natural feel-good chemicals) into your body:
- Go for a walk – just a 15 minute walk each day can help boost low mood. If you can, arrange to meet a friend for a walk. That way you’re less likely to talk yourself out of it, if you’ve a commitment to honour. Dogs are also wonderful motivators. The benefits of the companionship of pets is well recognised. Animals, especially dogs, don’t judge and they offer the best kind of love – unconditional love. Walking is an aerobic exercise, which has a wide range of benefits on the mind and the body. With the added bonus of a dog for company, going out for a walk can be very therapeutic.
- Do some gardening – if you’re lucky enough to have a garden, why not spend 30 minutes or an hour tidying up, mowing the law, pruning or planting some seeds. Studies have shown that gardening is a good mood enhancer and can help people who suffer with mental illness. It’s a moderate form of exercise, known to reduce anxiety and stress. Just getting outside and enjoying some sunlight is a proven mood booster.
- Take up running – many people turn to running to boost their mood. Depending on your energy and functioning levels, running is another aerobic exercise which benefits the mind and the body. When you go for a run, it triggers a release of those feel-good endorphins and provides a lift, albeit a temporary one, from depressive feelings. Although I’m not a fan of running myself (weak ankles and knees!) I know people who swear by it.
- Try yoga – I’ve not tried yoga myself, but I’ve heard nothing but good and positive things. It’s said to improve flexibility, strength, balance and helps to make you aware of your breathing. Yoga’s mind-body approach can help to relieve symptoms of depression through poses, techniques and meditation.
There’s so much research out there which proves regular, moderate exercise is beneficial for people who suffer from depression. For those with low to mild forms especially, regular exercise is a great way to banish the blues.