Forrest Gump is one of my favourite films ever. I’m sure you’ve all watched it (if you haven’t, you absolutely must). Who doesn’t remember that iconic part of the film where, following the death of his mother and Jenny leaving him, he decides to ‘go for a little run.’
“For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going.”
I haven’t quite done a Forrest. And not suggesting that you do one too. But running and going for long walks every single day helped me work through a lot of internal pain. It didn’t take much thinking. I just got up showered and headed out. I walked, and walked, and walked and then just walked home again. Only to wake up the next day and do it all over again.
Walking and running, gave me a new sense of hope, especially during my darkest times. And is the reason I still run consistently and go for hikes today – it supports my mental and spiritual wellbeing and keeps me grounded – and the research proves it too!
Physical Activity = Happiness = Wellbeing
A study conducted in 1999 and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, recruited men and women over 50 years old who were suffering from clinical depression. One group was given four months of aerobic exercise, the second group only antidepressants, whilst the third group was given both antidepressants and physical exercise.
The physical activity assigned was made up of three supervised forty-five-minute sessions per week of either cycling, walking or jogging at moderate to high-intensity. By the end of the four-month period, all three groups experienced their depression lift, reporting ‘fewer dysfunctional attitudes and increased happiness and self-esteem.’ It was found that aerobic exercise was just as effective at treating depression as the antidepressants were alone, as was the combination of the drugs and aerobic exercise. Interestingly, and more remarkably:
“Six months later, participants who had ‘remitted’ (recovered) from their depression were less likely to relapse if they had been in the exercise group (six months ago!), than if they’d been in the medication group.”
I didn’t know all this research at the time, I just knew that going out made me feel good, it gave me as sense of hope and lifted me out of the dark tunnel. It was the light. So, ultimately, I wanted to continue doing what was good for me.
There’s so much research out there that supports the positive effects that exercise can have on our overall wellbeing and according to Lyubomirsky (2007) is the most effective instant happiness booster of all activities.
Mother Nature. Medicine for Happiness
I’ve never taken medication for my depression and neither when I burnt out, even though I was pressured to, I just refused. I knew there was another way forward. For the record, I’m by no means suggesting that medication is ‘bad’, and neither am I suggesting you should stop taking any form of medication. I’m talking about my own personal experience and everyone is different.
I just promised myself I’d never ever go down that route. Having been in therapy since the age of 14, would mean years and years of antidepressants – not a thought I’d personally like to entertain. I wanted to find alternative ways to support me and physical activity and being outdoors was my ‘natural’ happiness booster.
Running and walking were (and continue to be) two physical activities I incorporated into my life when I burned out at the end of 2012. My Self was screaming for the outdoors. I needed to be out there, amongst the trees, the birds, the sound of the river, the breeze and the clean fresh air. I needed to clear my head, I needed to do a Forrest Gump on a daily basis. Setting out early, and just walking and walking wherever the path took me and then when I got tired I walked home again. Being outdoors helped with the physical, mental and spiritual pain. It helped lift the fog in my head, it helped me become grounded and supported me in finding my way home.
This is the main reason I still continue to integrate physical activity in my life every single day. I go out for a run three times a week, and if I don’t feel like running I go out and walk, or to the gym. If I can’t manage that, then I ensure I do my morning 15-minute morning stretch or yoga. I just make sure I do something.
But honestly, being outdoors in nature is absolutely the best medicine. I’m lucky to live in the countryside, but not doing so isn’t an excuse not to move or go out and connect with Mother Nature. Find a local green space, a park or anywhere where there are trees along the route, connect with her – she’s always there in some form or another to help you because, simply put:
“Being outdoors allows you to see farther, and seeing farther may be all it takes to expand your thinking and give you more to feel good about.”
And while Forrest Gump ran continuously for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days and 16 hours to ease his pain until he decided to go home. You can ease the pain, ease the overwhelm by incorporating at least 30 minutes of physical activity into your daily routine – if you can’t do 30 minutes, even 15 minutes will do. Just get out there, be a mini Forrest and allow yourself to re-connect with your Self and find your way home.
Fredrickson, B (2009). Positivity. Groundbreaking Research to Release your Inner Optimist and Thrive. London. One World.
Lyubomirsky, S (2007). The How of Happiness. A practical Approach to Getting the Life you Want. London. Piatkus
Image courtesy of Arek Adeoye / Unsplash
“Am I burning out?”
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