The Friday Stretch: This is Your Brain on Fitness

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After two weeks of no guests, we welcomed more friends on Tuesday — yay! They are the second set of visitors from Germany in a month, thus reinforcing my perception that Germans have a particular fascination with the American West. We saw a guy on the slopes yesterday wearing a cowboy hat instead of a helmet, so that only reinforced the stereotype. Alex and Elin are here for a nice, long visit, so Tim and I are also looking forward to lots of quality time, and to subjecting them to an afternoon of American football and consumerism (it’s all about the ads!) on Sunday. They’ll either get a kick out of it, or vow never to come back to the US.

Starting this week, I’m going to shift the focus of The Friday Stretch. Instead of posting a bunch of links, I’m going to explore an inspiring piece of fitness & wellness content in a little more depth.

Let me know what you think.

Have a great weekend!

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This week I read a Medium post from entrepreneur (and fitness buff) James Clear about a study conducted at Duke University about the impact of exercise on depression. James goes into a lot more detail about the study — so take a peek; it’s great stuff — but the gist is that researchers found that:

a) people diagnosed clinical depression experienced as much relief from a consistent exercise routine alone as they did with medication or medication mixed with exercise

And, even more interestingly:

b) the people who “treated” their depression with exercise alone were a LOT less likely to relapse than those who relied solely on medication

Why? The researchers hypothesized that one of the major psychological benefits of exercise is the “development of a sense of personal mastery and positive self–regard.” Or as James interprets and hypothesizes himself, “exercise confirms your new identity to yourself. It changes the type of person that you believe that you are and proves that you can become better.” And this — as the theory goes — is a more powerful tool against depression than the knowledge that medication is “fixing” your flawed brain.

When I read this, I thought YES! Actually, I said YES! out loud and scared my dog. This resonated on so many levels. This is exactly what I feel when I work out, play a sport or do something active. It’s the nebulous concept that I’ve strived (yet struggled) to convey via this blog. It’s not just feeling strong, or a rush of endorphins. It literally changes my perception of myself.

One big, important difference that I want to be sure to point out is that I don’t suffer from depression. I’m grateful that I don’t, and I cannot and will not opine on what it’s like to actually face what is a life-altering disease. But I have experienced the profound psychological impact described in this study and by James Clear.

Let me give one concrete example:

On more than one occasion, I would be at work and had to face a tough conversation, tackle a project I felt insecure about or make a tricky decision. I would over think, imagine the worst, procrastinate — you name the unproductive thought process, and I probably went through it. But, I eventually figured out that if I could get myself on the tennis court in the morning, or outside for a run over lunch, I could summon the confidence and courage I needed to do the hard thing. Because damn it, if I could push myself to come back from a 1-6 set, or endure one more mile, then I sure as hell could do the thing I needed to do. And nine times out of ten, that hard thing turned out not only fine, but in my favor.

Over time, and via many runs, tough tennis matches and headstands in yoga classes, I slowly started to believe that I actually was the person who felt strong, powerful and unflappable after a workout. And a funny thing happened … soon, I was able to summon that feeling … no, that belief … without an hour in the gym.

Wait, I think I may be confirming my new identity to myself. And it feels damn good.

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Chrissy Trampedach
Chrissy Trampedach is a PR & communications pro by day and fitness buff, skiing fanatic, dedicated yogi and wannabe tennis champ by night (and weekend). As a former competitive figure skater, she’s lived a life of training and sports from a young age. Today, she fuels her competitive spirit and drive to challenge her body and mind with USTA tennis, skiing adventures around the world, the SF yoga community and tracking the latest fitness trends. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Tim and their “75-lb lap dog” Enzo.

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