Guest Post: How Fitness Can Positively Influence Your Mental Health
Hey everyone! I hope you’re all well. Over the past few weeks, I have been working hard on sculpting my blog. I have been thinking about how I can make my blog a collaborative space for people to share their journeys in the hope that it will inspire others.
I have lots to share but I want my blog to offer lots of content. Not just from my life but from all walks of life.
My blog is for anyone. Male. Female. Teenager. Adult. All ethnicities. All sizes. Gay. Straight. You name it, you’re welcome here if you want to seek positivity.
Now and then I am going to welcome guest writers onto my blog. They will share their journey, how they have overcome a situation in their life or they will simply share something positive and inspiring. After all, this is a place for positivity. It’s a hub for good vibes and I want to show you that you’re not alone. We are all in this together.
Welcome to the new addition to my blog…
This week, I have the gorgeous Kate Usher writing for my blog, a UKBFF Bikini Athlete and coach at @mymanorlondon. She is incredibly passionate about fitness, she has a really interesting story and she’s living in the heart of London but she’s still a true Kiwi through and through. Thank you, Kate, for sharing your journey about how building on your physical fitness can help your overall mental health… Over to you…
“There is no elevator to success. You’ll have to take the stairs”
A story of how building physical fitness positively influenced my mental wellbeing ❣️
I first joined a gym back in 2016. In a fairly typical story, I had just broken up with a long term boyfriend and thought that losing a bit of weight might make me feel better about the whole situation. I had no idea what I was doing, the weights section was full of buff blokes throwing heavy dumbbells about and I felt intimidated and out of place. So I sat on a bike and observed. For 5 weeks that was pretty much all I did- I pedalled and watched in the mirrors as other people who knew what they were doing squatted, deadlifted, benched and ran through conditioning circuits.
One night, I got to the gym late and it was empty. I got on my little bike and started pedalling but then a thought occurred to me… I was alone. No one there to judge me. Maybe I’d try some of these weightlifting moves I had seen everyone doing?
More than a month at the gym… and that night I picked up a barbell for the very first time.
Now I have played sport my whole life and I’m not a small girl- I was blessed with a fair bit of strength from day one so I survived (and in-fact thrived from) that first encounter with a bar. I definitely wouldn’t advise anyone to start lifting alone, at night, without any proper coaching but that’s what I did.
I kept up this routine for a while, pedalling on my bike until all the big boys went home then sneaking into the racks to practice my lifting. I watched YouTube videos on how to sumo squat and read up on building enough upper body strength to do a pull-up. I bought resistance bands and started adding protein to everything. The obsession had begun.
Eventually, I felt comfortable and confident enough to get off my bike, at 6pm on a Monday (international chest day so the gym was full), activate my glutes and rack up a bar to do back squats. It’s worth mentioning here that the town I lived in was next to an Army base, and that the gym I was attending had a membership made up almost entirely of super fit, super strong young guys with years of lifting under their belts. It was an intimidating environment but I am so grateful that the influence I had in my early lifting days was one like that. As soon as I stepped up to the bar, it was clear to all that I was new to this. I was squatting well above parallel, with about 25 kilos across my shoulders.
Those guys took me under their wing. They taught me to “pull the floor apart” with my heels, they gave me drills with a PCV pole, mobility exercises and took me for circuits.
When I dislocated my shoulder and broke my collarbone, they put together rehab programs and trained with me until I was stronger. This is what fitness is all about. When I started lifting I became part of a community, a movement.
I have friends for life who I met over a bench, who I compared calluses and one-rep max chats with. Some people see the fitness community as competitive and shallow but it’s far from that in my experience. We only compete against who we were and what we could do yesterday. We are as passionate about each-others’ successes as our own. I thought those guys in the gym would laugh at me but they welcomed me, helped me… And now I’m lifting heavier than some of them can 😉. The confidence I gained from learning these skills, finding something I was so passionate about and was eliciting change in my body and mind… I haven’t found anything that compares to weight training.
It’s been nearly 3 years since I picked up that first bar, I’m a coach at an amazing gym now and I gain so much satisfaction from seeing my clients progress and learn new lifts and movements. I love watching their understanding and celebration of their bodies grow.
I’ve found weight training incredibly empowering- this is my body and I can sculpt it and train it to do things I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of. I have competed in Crossfit and bodybuilding, run 21 kilometres up a mountain, deadlifted twice my bodyweight and shifted literal tonnes since that first late-night lift. But by far the best thing that fitness has brought me is mental robustness. Finding something within myself that means I want to get up to my 5am alarm and run through the dark to the gym, the satisfaction I feel when my muscles are sore from hitting a new personal best on a lift or the appreciation I now feel for the food that fuels my body.
This journey has been amazing but not without its struggles. Like many before me, my pursuit of fitness started from a place of discomfort in my own skin. I felt rejected after the split from my boyfriend, I had gained weight from too many nights out and I couldn’t have even run one mile. Those first weeks (in truth, probably the first months) of my training were motivated by hatred of my “soft” body. I wanted to punish myself for being unattractive to my partner, for neglecting sport and for drinking so many vodka cranberries on my travels. And, for a while, that worked. I lost weight, I stopped drinking alcohol, I ate kale. But the discontent remained.
It wasn’t until, with the support of the community of ‘crossfitters’ and athletes and mums-who-want-flat-tums that I built around me, I learnt that my body is amazing… That I became grateful for all that it has done for me rather than its perceived aesthetic value. I’ll continue to push myself, to be a “savage” with my training, to devour knowledge on this topic and to always strive for one more rep… But these days it comes from a place of celebration. I’m hugely proud of what my body can do, what I can teach people that their bodies can do. How our bodies are so, so much more than what they look like.
If reading this novel about my experience and the positive effect that weight lifting has had on me, from the inside out, hasn’t convinced you to try picking something heavy up or hasn’t got you signing up for that 5k… Then maybe some of the research supporting physical activity’s impact on mental health will? Regular physical activity lowers your risk of depression by 30%, reduces stress and improves sleep quality. After as little as 20 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as jogging or swimming or gentle weight training, your body is prompted to release “feel good” hormones endorphin and serotonin which boost your mood and self-esteem.
Feeling great, looking and moving better, being part of a community and improving your health and wellbeing… What’s not to love?
A huge thank you goes out to Kate for sharing her story. Not only does this highlight the positives of fitness… It also shows that if you’ve got enough nerve, you can do it. It’s people like Kate who turn their negatives into positives and now continue to inspire others… What an incredible person. Be sure to follow Kate here.
Want to join Positively Shared? Have a story to share or something positive to share? EMAIL ME! email@example.com