Some people have only known me as a person who’s really into her workouts, physical fitness, and active travel.
That likely means that they’ve known me only in recent years. What you may not know is that I only started working out eight years ago — at the age of 42.
Before that, my daily workout consisted of getting myself out of bed in the morning, putting on my “I’m OK” mask, working through the day as if in a bubble, and collapsing in a heap of exhaustion at the end of the day, worn down by the strain of trying to act human around other humans all day. Every day felt like I’d done the hardest workout ever, yet the workout of “living” never made me feel like I was getting healthier or stronger. It only made me feel more worn down.
Back then, my workout was trying to survive while living with the chronic illness of depression.
So this has been a big decade for me.
I’m wrapping up this decade in a much different, much better place than I was when it started.
How did I go from barely functioning to highly active? I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy.
Even during my years of depression, I knew in my mind that I’d feel improved if I did some exercise. I knew the scientific facts.
However, the idea of doing a workout felt like a herculean task when I was trying to simply put one foot in front of the other on a daily basis.
I reached a rock bottom point in my depression battle where I realized I couldn’t fight it on my own anymore. I have a distinct before and after memory of that turning point — one minute I was losing my battle and thinking of giving it up (literally, not figuratively, unfortunately); the next I received a phone call from my brother letting me know I was going to be an aunt.
I knew then, in that very moment, that I had to keep up the battle. The next day, I saw my doctor and immediately started on an anti-depressant. For me, medication is what I needed to balance me out and get me to a place of functioning before I could attempt to tackle other natural methods. [I give all credit to those who manage depression without meds, and I have no doubt it’s possible without them, but this is what I needed.]
With that, I could finally contemplate adding other tactics to help me keep my depression at bay. One of my key tactics is exercising.
I started fairly hardcore, with indoor cycling workouts. The dark room and loud music allowed me to use it as another form of therapy.
I added in yoga (starting with a week-long yoga retreat in Cuba). Then I added hiking, both locally and as part of annual hiking vacations — in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. Then, I started trying all kinds of different fitness activities (Aquacycling? Pilates? Dance cardio? Yes, yes, yes.).
I quickly realized how incredibly amazing exercise made me feel. I felt energized, uplifted, happy, motivated, and confident. Those were all feelings that had been virtually impossible for me to feel in the past.
Yes, it made my body stronger and more fit, but even more than that, it made my mind stronger and more fit.
And although it took me until my 40s to discover this, I haven’t wavered in this understanding since.
My workouts make a life-changing difference to me. If I miss too many days, I feel a noticeable shift in my frame of mind and my energy levels.
I build my workouts into my schedule as if they are medically necessary, because I truly believe they are.
For me, exercise is vital to my mental health.
Am I the fittest person out there? No. Can I keep up with people in their twenties in spin class? Not often. Am I the most coordinated in the barre or dance class routines? Definitely not.
Do I care about any of that? Absolutely not. Perhaps that’s another advantage of only starting to work out in my fifth decade.
So if I happen to over-index on talking about my love of workouts and all things sweat-inducing, there’s a reason for it.
It has not only given me a new perspective on my life, but has made me feel alive.
And this aliveness benefits me and everyone in my life around me, including my niece who has no idea how much she influenced the direction of my life before she was even born!
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