The importance of 'walking your black dog' (depression) and exercising your mood​​​​​​​.

Yesterday, Garden City Gala Chairman, Mr. Tom Blades had the privilege of speaking to Miss Tess Aisthorpe & Miss Cara Bricknell - Local Toowoomba business owners of Fighting Fit and Phoenix Power Coaching. We talked about the importance of 'walking your black dog' (depression) and exercising your mood. The Garden City Gala Team are extremely grateful for these two women to provide an insight on how regular exercise can improve mental health and wellbeing.

At its worst, depression can be a frightening, debilitating condition. Millions of people around the world live with depression. Many of these individuals and their families are afraid to talk about their struggles, and don't know where to turn for help. However, depression is largely preventable and treatable. Recognizing depression and seeking help is the first and most critical towards recovery. 
There is extensive evidence that shows exercise can be used to treat and even prevent mental illnesses like depression.
Everyone can benefit from exercising their mood. We all have room to build up our resilience and wellbeing. Exercising your mood is about starting at your own level - research shows that even small amounts of exercise is both mentally and physically beneficial.
According to the Australian Health Survey, 20 percent of Australian adults do not undertake any regular physical activity, and more than a third spend less than 1.5 hours per week being physically active.
At the same time, around 1 million Australians have depression, with one in five Australians aged 16-85 experiencing a mental illness in any year.
The international research team found that 12 percent of cases of depression could have been prevented if participants undertook just one hour of physical activity each week.
 "Cara & Tess, can you tell us a bit about yourselves, and what you do at Fighting Fit & Phoenix Power Coaching?

"We offer a range of services at Fighting Fit, from personalised PT sessions, Open Group exercise sessions, Functional Fitness, Teens Classes, Senior Classes, Boxing & Conditioning classes, nutritional guidance, Travel-Adventure - Trekking, as well as holistic psychological services including counseling & personal coaching."

"We know that using the power of the mind, and the power of the body leads to the creation of opportunities for our clients to reach optimal health and performance. As a result, we have combined the benefits of physical exercise together with psychological strength".

"Clients come to us seeking to improve their physical health, however, often find that as a result, they are challenged to overcome the psychological hurdles that may have been holding them back for years – often the reason they are unable to ditch those last few kilos or keep it off."

"The way we view our bodies, the importance of our health, our lifestyle choices, the food we choose to eat, the way we treat ourselves, is intrinsically linked to our overall physical condition. We have watched as once shy, withdrawn and depressed clients have developed self-confidence, intrinsic motivation and passion for their own wellbeing, all through the power of their own bodies."

"How does exercise help depression and anxiety?"

"Exercise produces endorphins, which are those ‘feel good’ chemicals in our body that help us feel ‘good’ & think ‘good’ about ourselves. This improves our overall outlook on life & can be the ‘pick me up’ we all need at those times we are feeling low."

"But exercise is more than that for us. The social connections we make as part of a group are vital to improving mental health, as well as leading to increased motivation & accountability."

"Is a structured exercise program the only option?"

"Definitely not. There are many options when it comes to reaping the benefits of exercise." 

"Some might need to start with a walk every second day, others might benefit from jogging daily, and for others, a structured group class is best." 

"Structured sessions, or having a timetable is often helpful in the beginning as depression saps our internal motivation. Having someone else tell us when to come in & what to do takes away the pressure & anxiety of having to come up with our own plan."

"How much exercise is enough?"

"Generally, 30 - 60 minutes of exercise a day is enough to maintain sound mental health, however, everyone is different - they could need more or they could need less."

 "How do I get started — and stay motivated?"

"The first step is always the hardest. Try it for one day and if it feels good, then try to add in a second - reminding yourself about how it makes you feel." 

"It’s important for everyone to identify why exercise is important for them. They can keep coming back to this when they want to give up. Staying motivated is all about this - knowing your ‘why’."

"Once a habit has been established, the ‘why’ is easy - it becomes continually supported by how you feel when you’ve finished a walk, a run, or a session."

 "Do I need to see my doctor?"

"It is recommended for everyone to have regular check-ups with their doctors. Prior to starting an exercise program, it is particularly important for those that are overweight, have a history of heart disease & high blood pressure, to ensure that their trainers are aware of this and make sure that medications and treatments are tailored appropriately."

"Why is it so important for men and women to stand up and speak about depression?"

"Mental health is still a taboo subject, yet it affects everyone at some point in their life." 

"We will all struggle with feelings of depression or bouts of anxiety & panic." 

"We need to let people know that they are not alone and that they don’t have to do it on their own. We need to show compassion, to offer help and understanding, and more than anything we need to talk about it - openly, honestly & with genuine care."

"Why do you think events like The Garden City Gala, are so important to local communities?"

"This event encourages ‘talk’ about mental health and is working to put a spotlight on an issue that touches everyone. The more of this we are exposed to, the more inclined we are to help and know what services are available if, and when needed - for ourselves, our family, our friends and importantly in the health & fitness industry - our clients."


A “Six Step” Summary for improving your mental health and well-being with regular exercise:

1. Start at your own level

Everyone starts somewhere and if you are new to exercise, set small goals and build your way up to a bigger goal like 30-60 minutes of exercise per day. 

If you already have a set exercise regime, you’re already on your way to improved mental health.

2. Find a time in the day that suits you

You don’t skip brushing your teeth because you’re not in the mood, there’s no reason why exercise should be skipped. 

Even on a rainy day, there is plenty you can do inside – like yoga or meditation. A recent study found that even a single session of mindful exercise (like yoga), can improve mood and reduce stress. 

3. Choose activities that you enjoy

Exercise doesn't have to mean going to the gym and lifting weights. Whether you like bushwalking, swimming, kite surfing, pilates or walking the dog, even 10-15 minutes of physical exercise daily is proven to have a positive impact on both your mental and physical health.

4. Remember to reward yourself for incremental changes

It won’t all happen overnight, just make sure you take the first step to a better frame of mind. 

When you reach a milestone of some sort, even if it is an extra 100m on your daily walk, tell someone you know, and celebrate it.

5. Give yourself a break

If you miss one session, one day or one week, don't be too hard on yourself. You can pick back up where you left on and refocus on the goals that you have set for yourself.

6. Take your friends or workmates along for the ride

If you are living with a mental illness, it can be difficult at times to socialise, however, asking a friend or colleague to join you in physical activity, is a great way to keep motivated. It gives you the chance to share an experience with someone while keeping your plans accountable to one another.


Tom Blades