Depression Relief: The Amazing Healing Powers of Fitness



My frank admission:

When I exercise on a regular basis, I feel centered, healthy and strong.

Some of you will roll eyes: “Duh.”

Others will smirk: “So?”

There are clearly two camps on the fitness issue: Those who do, those who won’t.

For some, fitness is a passion. For others, it’s an opportunity to spew out a “dog ate my homework” litany of excuses. There are only so many hours in a day. If you have children, house, pets, spouse, bills and a thousand other daily obligations how the  – – – are you supposed to fit in exercise.

But you know what? There are no excuses when it comes to exercise.

I have the ammo to prove it.

Enter Carolyn Johnson.

Carolyn has been my prime (slave) driver during my ‘finest hour’ of fitness greatness. Not by force, not by guilt. Just through her example.

Make no mistake: I’ve exercised all my life. Tennis, running, kick boxing, the works. But for some reason, Carolyn made me want to be like her as a fitness afficienado.  I’m not a poser. But her passion for female strength and wellness is infectious.

“I’ve always been an active person,” she says,” just not one blessed with a super fired metabolism.”

Her story is compelling. Carolyn experienced a battle with disordered eating in her 20s. Then in her 30s she gained too much weight. In her late 30s, she began a modest walking program. The walking regiment started one month before her father passed away from terminal cancer.

“The process of losing my Dad was the catalyst,” Carolyn recalls. “I was grieving, I was going to grieve. But I didn’t want to be a ‘victim’ of grief. I had to start ‘moving.'”

“Moving” helped her to stop battling with food. Soon thereafter she found a trainer who inspired her to run and also compete.

She began to lose weight, her eating patterns improved.

That was eight years ago.

“My standard now is to exercise 6-7 days a week – (activities include swimming, biking, running, gym machines, short core workouts, weights, yoga) – always with a goal in mind. And I eat ‘clean’ during the week. ”

Oh, and there’s the wee fact that Carolyn achieved Ironman status only a few years ago. An extraordinary achievement; wild by anyone’s standards. (See  ….and please don’t equate Ironman with a casual walk in the park. It’s an OMG to discover what it takes to be an Ironman.)

After completing the Ironman, Carolyn had an epiphany:  “I suddenly felt I was capable of anything.”

This is what exercise can do! Its transformative power is immense!

But so many people just don’t understand this.

For years now, I’ve ‘fitnessed’ myself  – with Carolyn in mind. After a few months of utter devotion (okay, after about a year) I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I felt great, clothes fit, that lazy hunger went away. Stress? Ruminations? Float away when you exercise. Like magic.

After a few years of this hardcore commitment, my knees began to scream. Turns out I’m not a “Carolyn” fitness specimen. I went too hard, too fast. And in my quest to be just like Carolyn I forgot: Everything in moderation. 

But I’m still deeply committed to regular exercise. And in a minute, I’ll tell you why. My reason may surprise you.

Now…what about the rest of you? Too lazy to exercise? No time? Then prepare yourself for this…

Carolyn Johnson:  “On Excuses”

Excuse: I have no time to exercise, and I’m not getting up early to exercise. “Get out of bed 30 minutes earlier than you do normally, and exercise. If you want more sleep, get to bed earlier.”

Excuse: I’m too fat to exercise, and don’t tell me that 3 minutes of exercise will do me any good. “Check with a doctor before beginning any exercise program. Start by moving for 10 minutes, build from there. I started 8 years ago, just walking. Today I’m an Ironman. It won’t happen overnight. The effort it takes to move a huge body is significant, even for 10 minutes. It’ll get easier. You’ll be able to go further before you know it. Endurance is something that has to be ‘built.'”

Excuse: Exercise is so boring. And I haven’t found a single exercise I like.  “But exercise is necessary  – if you want a healthy and happy life. I don’t like cleaning my house, but I do it. If you  find a form of exercise you enjoy, one that elevates your heart rate and keeps you moving,  you won’t be bored. Exercise comes in many forms. Look for something that’s fun, like riding a bike, hiking or ice skating.”

Excuse: I’m sore all over, how can I possibly exercise? And I can’t exercise until I lose a ton of weight, right? Don’t want to hurt myself! “I would examine why you’re sore. Maybe you’re carrying too much weight, putting too much strain on your joints. Get that weight down, with a healthy food plan and exercise. Start exercising, no matter your size. Exercise gives you extra energy and a sense of accomplishment that will fuel weight loss efforts.”

Excuse: I can’t do sports like I used to, my knees and shoulders are shot; why bother with anything. “There is a whole Olympic Game movement built around people with disabilities. I call bull*#! on that one.”

Excuse: Some people exercise too much. It’s just another stupid obsession.  “If you find a sport or exercise that gives you joy, health, wellness and you’re spending lots of time on it, what’s the problem? Exercise is not optional for good health. If you don’t find joy in it? Suck it up, do it anyway. Through exercise we become more aware of our bodies. We come to understand how food and movement affect who we are. Exercise wakes us up. Most people are just “going through the motions in life.” People are stressed out, over-scheduled,  worn out. Exercise truly helps with all of that.”

And Finally, A Serious Word – From Abby – Your ‘Average Joe’ Fitness Buff 

I ‘owe’ exercise. I’ll exercise until I can’t lift a finger. The reason is simple.

In 2005 I endured a major depressive episode. I was not able to function, eat, think. It took many months before I recovered. I survived the numbing, ‘out of body’ stage of depression for one major reason: each day I (somehow) got into my outdoor pool, out of sheer desperation, with a strong will to live. I stayed in the pool each day for at least an hour. The water was calming, the scenery was serene, I just swam, back and forth, back and forth, almost unconsciously. It was like some higher power was guiding me.

When I came out of the pool, having exercised my body for an hour or more, it was shocking how much better I felt. I was going to survive. Because of exercise.

Fitness for me – was and is – a gift from God.

If momentary release from a major depression isn’t a testament to the power and strength of exercise..what is?

If (as in Carolyn’s case) fitness can release a person, even for a moment, from the pain, stress and trauma of grieving, isn’t that a testament to the power of exercise?

Exercise is a free gift…are you ready to receive it?

If this post inspired even one of you to get ‘moving,” I’ll be happy.


With many thanks to Carolyn Johnson, Ironman. You can reach Carolyn for more information about fitness at:



This entry was posted on Friday, November 9th, 2012 at 8:00 am and is filed under Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.



While I don't publish all comments, I welcome and appreciate your feedback and participation. If you'd prefer to keep your comment 'private,' please use my contact form (located on my website menu) and indicate this. I will happily respond to all comments and questions.

  1. November 9th, 2012 | deb says:

    I will print this off and read it every day – and then exercise!

    Excuses? It comes down to being lazy. None of us will ever be satisfied with the number of hours in a day, nor can we change that.

    The motivation to exercise …is not always there; I push for twice a week.

    My goal will now be:
    Exercise 4 or 5 times a week – I’ll do this for me. (ugh)

  2. November 16th, 2012 | abby says:

    Deb: Don’t know if Carolyn J. would agree with me on this,but I firmly believe that there has to some kind of catalyst, some kind of motivator (health crisis,for example) that takes a person above the conventional perception about exercise (that it’s boring, I have to do it, ugh) to understanding that it’s a gift. It has to be something you want to embrace – for a reason. If you are exercising regularly – at all – I say good on you. If you really loathe doing it, and you’re still doing it, I say good on you again. We all have to start somewhere!

  3. November 12th, 2012 | Mary Ann Varkaris says:

    Great column. I always say that I “love” to exercise, but in reality there are days I have to kickstart myself. I’m always glad I did. My knees ache a bit, my left hip is creaky, but at fifty, these old injuries would hurt anyway. Besides which, my mother, who is 80, has had a personal trainer for two years and is currently setting up her own gym in the basement of her house. We are not prime athletes, just people looking after our bodies. Whether you’re just beginning or have it down to a good routine, you should “love” your body with fitness. Injuries and the desire to quit arise when our inner dialogue gets a little too tough!

  4. November 17th, 2012 | Cate says:

    This post brought me to tears because I know for a fact how good exercise feels and how it has gotten me through hard times. This post should definitely be shared with people of all ages especially who are going through hard times in their lives and the simple change that exercise can do for the mind, body and soul.

  5. November 19th, 2012 | Jean says:

    I have been doing aquafit for over twenty years now, 3 times per week, as well as walking on the days that I do not swim. It is written into my calendar just like every other appointment I have. When I had a major car accident in 2007 with both femurs and both hips and pelvis broken, aquafit was my salvation. 20 years ago it helped with major job stress and post accident, it got me moving again and kept all joints moving with significant pain relief. Without aquafit, I would be crippled for sure. I’m so thankful that I had the workout ethic before the accident as it was easier to slip back into that routine. Yoga also keeps my muscles stretched and more supple. A morning sun salute while the coffee brews gets me started each morning. At 71 years of age, it is indeed a gift to be able to continue this. My mom swam until ahe was 85 and could no longer use her car. Her health deteriorated significantly when she could no longer work out. Our 41year old daughter started running 2 months ago and finds great relief from symptoms of a chronic debilitating disease that she struggles through. As well she bikes for days on end on vacations.My husband has been working out since long before I met him, which was 50 years ago. So we do believe!

  6. November 20th, 2012 | abby says:

    And those who believe in exercise, to the extent that you do, are an inspiration to all of us.

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