How much does your physical lifestyle impact your emotional health? This is the story of how I became aware of this connection.
Living in Leeds in my mid 20s, I enjoyed the high life. I was embarking on a new career working with many creative people of my own age. I was living in a new city, enjoying all it had to offer. On the outside, all looked good with my life.
Out of balance
Still, I knew, something was out of balance. I was prone to mild mood swings and also experienced times of mild sadness, perhaps even depression. Though I wasn’t taking much exercise, or eating a healthy diet, I never made any connection at that time between my physical and emotional/mental health. Then one day, a friend offered me an entry into the London Marathon. Running London had been on my radar in my early 20s, when I did a lot of running. Though I hadn’t trained consistently for years and there were only six weeks to the event, I decided to go for it. It was also the last London marathon of the millennium.
I trained sporadically, thinking that my running background would kick in and see me comfortably through. The busy social lifestyle, however, continued apace. The big day arrived. I managed to run the first half with a little comfort, though it certainly wasn’t easy. However, cramps, loss of bladder control and disorientation kicked in through the excruciating last 21km. I broke down emotionally, reduced to floods of tears as I walked the last 6km. I crossed the finish line almost a broken man.
I made a decision that day that continues to affect my life. I swore I’d never again feel the way I did during the event or in the days after. My poor level of fitness had caught up with me and I was shocked by how much it had regressed in five years. I decided I would commit to running again, building from a slow start. I wanted to get back to a place where running was joyful, a spiritual experience, as it had been in the past.
Over the next couple of months I committed to running four times weekly for about 30 to 45 minutes. As my fitness began to improve, I also made other changes to my lifestyle. I cut back on nights out and on the number of fast-food meals I was eating. I did this by introducing more beneficial foods – mainly vegetables and fruit.
One morning about two months into my new regime, I was running a little late for the bus. I was running after a bus to avoid being 20-minutes late for work. After about 500 metres I finally caught the driver’s eye, and he generously pulled over and let me board. The bus was full so I had to stand. Then something happened.
I became aware of a sensation of intense vitality coursing through my body. It felt like a mild electrical impulse invigorating me. At the same time, I noticed that I was not particularly out of breath, despite running hard for 500 metres with a bag on my back.
I felt as though I was lifted above myself and was able to look down and see a completely different person to the one who had existed three months previously. My mind was clearer, my skin felt vibrant and glowing, my body lean.
I also realised that my mood swings and downers had dissipated. I became aware of how much I had changed. I stood there, smiling broadly, gratitude and peace surging through me. I remember thinking that I wanted more of this.
I had turned the corner. I had experienced my eureka moment and saw the connection between physical and mental/emotional health. It was the beginning of an amazing journey.
Next time: How to find your why
Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.