The benefits of exercise on mental health


Depression in men my age is real. Suicide in our demographic is also real. I suffer from the former and do not consider the latter. This post isn’t about that, but for anyone who is searching the internet, looking for answers, and is considering just what is wrong it’s important to know you are not alone. I’m also not one to help as I have no training and thus no right to try and explain depression. Is it situational sadness, literal depression or chemical imbalance that is leading you down a dark path, or something else? I’m here to share bits of my story as a 50+ guy who is dealing with the world around him. And right now, while I would have to admit that in the past I have suffered from depression and anxiety this is situational sadness. As I would ignorantly term it. This post is about the benefit of running on my mental health.

What is that ‘situation’

Like a lot of men my age, I find myself at a crossroads in career while questioning friendships and position in my community. The big one right now, the one that no one knows the true extent it weighs on me, including my wife, is financial. I’m sure that is no surprise, as you might be going through the same thing. Couple that with believing that you suffer in quite and right now my head space is anything but in a good state.

What exercise does for mental health

The science behind the benefits of exercise on mental health is sound and readily available to anyone with the curiosity. I’m not going to explain it as there are people a lot more qualified to do that. But you should understand these things. For information on neurotransmitters, dopamine, and the like I suggest checking out Healthline after reading this.

Exercise and MY mental health

The benefits of exercise on my mental health really focus on being outside, in the place I am lucky enough to call home. I am not discounting the actual objective scientific effects of exercise. I just focused on the subjective effects of being outside, in an element I enjoy and moving. In my world, exercise means one thing, getting out. That can mean biking, running, skiing or vigorously hiking a local peak. Inside, like lifting weights or riding a trainer just doesn’t seem to have the same effect. Even though the science is still there.

Outside, I push myself harder and further, lost in my surroundings. Inside, it’s a sufferfest of just getting through it. I feel good about it afterwards. But for no reason other than the sense of accomplishing something that I really did not want to do and hated every minute of.

Outside my mood improves, I can think clearly about my troubles

Regardless of how bad that mood, and just how sad I might be. When I push myself to get outside the strides become easier as I move along. It sucked… hard… at first. As I ran down the gravel alley to the park, on my way up the canyon, with less and less mental effort I move beyond my worries. Today the cold, crisp air filled my lungs while the midday sun warmed my skin. Even as I thought about what had been weighing me down.

The problem is still there. But I can see it more clearly. No longer a weight I can not get out from under. Now, a hurdle, one that there is a way to get over. Through the park and into the canyon I begin to work on a plan. It was there all along, the run just let me get it sorted out. I think that is why I never get outside with a podcast or audio book. The earbuds are in my pocket, for music, when I get my head cleared. I’ll continue up the canyon until I feel better. My stride is comfortable. I’m more into my head and the beauty I’m surrounded by. I’ll keep going until I’m feeling better, realize that today this is all I have or the setting sun brings rapidly dropping temps to the canyon floor.

When I turned around today it was a bit of all three. But mostly, I was feeling better. The worry is still there. It hasn’t gone away. When I get home I’ll have to be sure to keep to the plan. Hold confidence that this too shall pass. And that life is good. I have a lot to be grateful for.

But right now as I cross the road for the run back home, the earbuds go in, the music is on and I’m lost in the beauty of The Black Hills. I’ll pick up the pace for what today is a little over three miles to home. The pace will quicken all the way down the canyon and into the park. I’ll never stop looking around me, appreciating the world we live in.

Right now there is nothing other than my stride & breathe

This what the benefits of exercise on mental health are for me. The music is pushing me, I’m listening to my increased breathing and focused on my gate. For these 25 minutes there is nothing else. Finishing up along the creek, through the park. I can see my house up the short hill above. I’ll break stride now, walking, with a smile. Feeling a sense of pride for how fast I might have run at my age. I say ‘might have’ as I really don’t know. I’m about time and heart rate, don’t really care about literal speed. The low angle of the sun is playing with the trees and I can’t help but smile.

The weight is still there. It just doesn’t feel quite as heavy.

the benefit of running on my mental health
On my way back, towards the bottom of Spearfish Canyon