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Old 05-31-2006, 09:23 PM   #1
Robert Dobo
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Mental Health Benefits of Functional Fitness


As a person who suffers from ‘Mood Disorders’, mainly chronic depression, and anxiety, I have a personal stake in this article. It has been known for some time now that physical conditioning has a profound influence on one’s physical health, but what is often overlooked is the impact such fitness has on one’s mental health. Millions of people every year suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression, some people can handle the emotions on their own, and many cannot. For millions of people every year mood disorders become an overwhelming experience. Western medicine can only treat the problem so much. There is no blood test to see if your medication is working, medicating patients is literally a ‘hit, or miss’ situation. Not to downplay the importance of western medicine, I believe it plays an important role to a patient’s recovery, but it is not a cure.

It is estimated that in the United States alone approximately 7.3% of the adult population has an anxiety disorder that requires some form of treatment; depression is also a problem in today’s society, with clinical depression affecting 2–5% of Americans each year. Crunch the numbers and you have several million people in the United States alone suffering from mood disorders. Probably the most well known example of a biochemical contribution from exercise comes in the form of a feeling of euphoria following intense prolonged workouts. Known as "runners high" increases in endorphins being released are believed to cause this mental state, though it is still unclear if it promotes mental well being long-term.

More promising research points to norepinephrine and serotonin as biomechanical mechanisms for improved mood, both are elevated following acute exercise. Given that many anti-depressant medications also work by increasing the levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain, it seems reasonable to assume that this may be the means by which exercise can lead to improvement in one’s mental health.

Dry statistics and terminologies aside, exercise has been clinically proven to level out the biomechanical mechanisms in the body to increase mental well being. Functional fitness is a key ingredient to mental health. Exercise at least three times a week can provide mental acuity, that otherwise would require medication to achieve, and even then finding the right medication and dose is a long process in itself. Quite often the biggest hurdle to overcome is simple motivation. When suffering from depression motivation to do anything is incredibly difficult.

Another hurdle to overcome is recognizing and admitting you suffer from a mood disorder. In today’s society we are only beginning to scratch the surface on the acceptance of people with mood disorders, people are often thought of as lazy or too sensitive, when in actuality the suffer from a medically accepted condition. No different than being diabetic, people suffer from an imbalance of norepinephrine and serotonin instead of a diabetic and insulin.

To sum things up, whether you suffer from a mood disorder or not, physical conditioning can act as a way to either overcome your disability or stave off the onset of a mood disorder. So grab your Barbell, or Kettlebells, Sandbags, or Indian Clubs, and get out there and work your body. Always remember that you are not just exercising your body, but rather you are exercising your mind, body, and soul as one unit. Your stress level will drop, your energy levels will rise and your mind will be more clear and focused.

Robert Dobó
Fitness Enthusiast
Owner of www.HealthBells.com
Strong Bodies = Strong Minds

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Old 06-01-2006, 06:39 PM   #2
Barry Cooper
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You know, I have something to say about that. I've been meaning to post this for a couple weeks, and was attacked with perfectionitis. I've recovered.

On the way to the airport from the Cert. a couple weekends ago, I had this thought that was like a bubble popping in my head. It was, at least as it relates to my world, profound.

As near as we can determine, rates of anxiety and depression were much lower 100 years ago than they are now. Clinical depression, as we understand monopolar, can't get out of bed, depression, was almost unknown. What changed?

My answer is psychology happened. Although it masquerades as a science, it consists almost entirely of stories, (outside of some types of psychometry, like perception thresholds and the like). Narratives. People get Ph.d's in this stuff, and they act like they know what the hell they are talking about. Most of them don't, and only a handful of researchers have done anything worth a damn.

Here is my thesis: depression and anxiety are both caused by the perception of actual or incipient helplessness. Martin Seligman is one of the few researchers I know of who seems to have done something useful, and he developed this theory of learned helplessness back in the 60-70's, somewhere in there. They put rats on an electric plate where they get shocked, and give them an out. They take it 100 times out of 100. They take away the out, then shock them a bunch of times. Nothing they do matters. Then they give them an out again. They stay right where they are and get a shock. Learned helplessness. "Nothing I do matters".

What happens in therapy? Tell me about your childhood. Oh, that must have been difficult. Did that hurt your feelings? How do you feel about that? Tell me more about that next week. 11 good?

Obviously, all are a bit different, but some of you will recognize that. The fact is that feelings are fleeting. They change constantly. Try paying attention to your feelings for the course of one day, and see how even you are. Even in well-balanced people there is a lot of up and down, like the ocean, which is on balance flat, but not in detail.

Whenever something bad happens to you, the intelligent objective is to move through it emotionally as quickly as possible. Process it, deal with it, move on. But an awful lot of talk therapy is oriented essentially around, well, talk (as an interesting, to me, anecdote: I was listening to a tape about Freud, and the whole thing apparently started when his partner in crime Breuer came to him and said: "I have this patient who feels better after talking to me for an hour"). Talking about yourself to a rapt (perhaps we could say motivated, as in financially) listener, is a turn-on for many people. So what happens to a water flow that should have continued down-stream, is it turns into a circular eddy, that never goes anywhere. Do any of you know people who have been in therapy for years? I do. They don't get better. What actually happens is they get stuck in a moment (as U2 put it), and they can't get out of it. The potential for being stuck is sufficient cause for sufficient anxiety to get them back again next week.

The solution is to teach the skill of movement. The skill of moving from helplessness, to power. The development of the realistic internal assessment that you are likely to be able to handle whatever hits you.

In this regard, I should say that I developed a simple principle some time ago of "action precedes affect", by which I mean that, in my view, there is an aspect of your consciousness that is taking notes. It logs everything you do and say, and the congruence between the two, and it knows when you've been sleeping and it knows if you're awake. It knows if you've been bad or good, so you'd better be good for goodness sake.

Sorry. What I'm trying to say, is that when you are presented with a new challenge, say, a new job, or talking to someone you don't know, there is a part of your brain that generates a feeling appropriate to your actual readiness. If the accurate part of you feels you aren't ready, then you will feel anxiety. If you fail, then it will tell you that you are a failing sort of person, and that depression is the best response.


Now, this part of you can be maybe a little influenced by talk, but it knows as well as you do that most talk is BS. Therefore, when the poop hits the fan, all the talking you've done beforehand really won't do you much good. The only way to deal with this is to persevere through the poop, despite anxiety, and a voice telling you you can't do it, etc. etc. Once you do that, the next time that voice shuts up a bit more. After a while, you don't hear it, or you don't care any more.

CrossFit--and exercise more generally--trains that. It trains you to punch through when things get tough. Now, if you don't train hard, you aren't punching through much, so the benefit, emotionally, is not as much as it would be if things were tougher.

Here, we make it about as hard as it can be, as far as intensity. It would be difficult to conceive of more painful workouts. Maybe ones that last longer, but nausea is usually a reliable clue that you're going at it about as hard as you can.

But the benefit, is we train ourselves to perform a simple movement, like a basic block in martial arts, or something. Difficulty, punch through. Difficult, punch through. Difficulty, punch through. By doing this many times, you have this basic emotional maneuver down.

When this thought hit me, I became the absent minded professor, and left my wallet in my rental car. Got to the airport, no wallet. Bad juju. Got the shuttle back, and on the way I was freaking out, thinking of how screwed I would be if I couldn't find it. You can't get on planes without an ID, so even if my parents or brother wired my money, I'd still be stuck.

Then I thought, "I'm freezing up." I'm doom and glooming instead of planning. I have power. So I thought, well, I could file a police report if it's missing, and my parents could wire me money, and I could take a bus. It would be inconvenient, but it would solve the problem." Long story short, they found the wallet, and I caught my plane. But I was calm all through it.

Much tougher situation: I read a story some time ago about a mission in Vietnam where a small squad of SEALS was going to crash land a helicopter in the middle of a village where they were misbehaving somehow. The pilot missed the drop first run, which alerted the VC, then turned around, dropped the guys, and hit a tree or something, and a rotor blade cut off the head of one of the SEALs. The dude telling the story said effectively that he went numb for a second--felt helpless--then popped out of it and completed the remainder of the mission as well as he could, and he referenced, in relating how he made that turn, the value of Hell Week.

It seems to me the value of Hell Week--and self evidently this is a reader talking out his butt because I haven't been there--is that it teaches you that no matter what happens, you can always take one more step, then another. If you can't walk, you can crawl. If you can't crawl, you can slither. If you can't slither, you can wiggle your big toe. No matter what, no matte how bad it is, there is always SOMETHING YOU CAN CONTROL, but that only applies if you keep moving and keep trying. Persistence. Obviously.

The extent of your ability to keep moving will dictate your ability to avoid depression and anxiety. The change between now and 100 years ago is that we have been taught that between our parents and our biology, we are pretty well stuck. If we are stuck, there's no sense trying. If you believe there is no sense trying, then you are depressed, or will be.

What gets me, is there is no damn difference between our biochemistry and those of our great-grandparents. Maybe there are a few less vitamins in our rutabagas, and a bit more smoke in the air, but it's basically the same Sh$%.

And if psychology worked, then this whole shift would have been managed. But, to put it bluntly, we are taught by well-meaning but stupid people to whine, and feel good doing it. Whiners are people who are stuck. They are definitionally people who feel overwhelmed by this that or the other.

Speaking more broadly, this aspect of psychology is characteristic of what Friedrich Hayek calls "constructivism", which is the principle that smart people can mess with any cultural, social, economic, or physical thing they want to, and as long as they use what they consider rationality, it will turn out all right.

Socialism is an example. LOGICALLY, we are told, if you have income disparities (we are all created equal, so income distribution must also be as equal as we can make, is the sort of "logic" characterizing this mindset), then solution is to take money from people who have a lot, and give it to people who don't. By so doing, we are told, as anyone with a brain can see, we will increase general prosperity, especially since the rich people really don't need their stuff anyway.

However, Hayek juxtaposes with this a conception called the "extended order", which is essentially a sum of all the members of a spontaneously formed economic order, who do not communicate directly with one another, but who collectively do an excellent job of increasing prosperity. He say we don't understand this thing, and anyone who says they do is an idiot. History, I think, supports him in this belief.

Socialism and much of psychology are, in my view, constructivist fantasies. Psychology has created the maladies it now brags about solving. Why would you need Prozac if you weren't depressed? Why is your brain different than your great-grandfathers? He took a lot of sh#$ in his life, but he didn't know about therapy, so he didn't know he was supposed to be depressed. And no one tolerated him sitting around feeling sorry for himself. There was work to be done.

I ask: who among you hasn't felt sharp pain? Loneliness? The heartbreak of rejection? Apparently unmanageable job pressure? People who didn't understand you? An ordinary day in combat? etc. etc. Can you avoid pain in this life? Is a life of ease not also painful (how many drugs get consumed at the toniest schools, for example)? YOU CANNOT AVOID SOME LEVEL OF PAIN. It will not happen, and it should not happen, because it will deprive you of the valuable lesson of practicing your basic maneuver of difficulty/punch through.

THAT would be tragic.

I will conclude by saying that in my view most of the information of fitness is also of the constuctivist variety. The thought is that "science" can improve things, but what the hell have they actually done?

(Coach, I intended this linkup as a sort of gift, if you haven't already explicity developed this connection--temperamentally I can see it's self-evidently already there)

An important part of what Coach did was nothing other than say, look what have people always done? They lift things, they climb over things, etc. The trick is to acquire the visual acuity to see the forest AND the trees at the same time.

There are a lot of full-time and well-meaning researchers out there who can't perform that maneuver.

Now I will perform my "step off soap box" maneuver.
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Old 06-01-2006, 07:29 PM   #3
Barry Cooper
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I posted that thing, then a couple thoughts occurred to me. First, I intend no disrespect to Robert. It is an established fact--and this actually is useful--that a number of psychological maladies are in fact biochemical. Lithium, as one example, is a godsend to many people suffering from bipolar disorder, and it is also a fact that not everyone suffering from depression is a "whiner".

It does still seem to me, though, that the very people we depend on to give us accurate advice, are the least likely to actually help us, in many cases. This is why Dr. Phil is so popular. He tells people to straighten up and fly right, and we have reached a point in our social evolution where that is a novel approach, unfortunately.
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Old 06-01-2006, 08:08 PM   #4
Nick Cummings
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Good read, thanks.
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Old 06-02-2006, 01:00 AM   #5
Russ Greene
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I think the whole "genetics" argument is very closely related to your learned helplessness idea, Barry. I remember on another board where people were talking about Crossfit, and whenever somebody like Greg Amundson was mentioned to prove the efficacy of the program, some people would just answer, "he's a genetic freak, he would do well on any program, normal people can't tolerate that variety/intensity/ etc." I must say I actually fell for this trick the first time I read it a few years ago. Now I read that and I realize what a load of crap it is. In case anyone ever calls me a genetic freak, I keep my presidential fitness results (mile run, 50 yard dash, pullups, sit and reach, etc) from elementary school posted in my room. I was 50th percentile, completely average.

It is interesting how different groups of people view this genetics argument and how it affects their performance. I read an article about that mentioned a poll in which Asian-american students tended to view academic success as something which, with the right amount of effort, anyone could achieve. Other Americans instead believed that the valedictorian was inherently "smarter" than everyone else. When you believe that getting good grades is achievable by anyone who works hard, you work hard. When you believe that success is primarily genetically predetermined, you leave studying hard to the "smart kids."

Obviously genetics are very important. Some people are just born more suited than others for certain activities. Nevertheless, the more you focus on genetics the less you work. I can't know what my genetic limitations are unless I've spent many years pushing myself to the limit with the best possible program.
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Old 06-02-2006, 12:23 PM   #6
Robert Dobo
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I suffer from Bi-Polar Disorder, and Agoraphobia. I try to make it a point these days to openly talk about my disorder in means of assisting others whom suffer from this or similar Mood Disorders.

I am standing here, holding my head high and admitting in public that I am sick and there is nothing to be ashamed of. It is real, it is serious, and it should not be down played.

I also want to say that in addition to medical treatment, physical fitness can be an extremely effective treatment to mood disorders.


Robert Michael Dobó

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Old 06-03-2006, 07:13 AM   #7
Barry Cooper
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Robert,

First of all, as I said, I intend no disrespect. I'm sure it has taken a long time to get to the point where you could admit these things openly. I'm sure it took a lot of courage, and you are to be commended for that.

As I mentioned, in my view (according to my research, and I'm relying in large measure here on the book "The Myth of Neurosis", by Garth Wood), there are some emotional illnesses best treated as if they were primarily physical in nature, including bipolar disorder, severe monopolar disorder, schizophrenia, and probably one or two I'm forgetting. Drugs work, talking doesn't, and the patient seems to have little to no volitional control over the symptoms. They can try as hard as they want, and nothing seems to happen.

Having said that, look objectively at the situation, as it has been outlined by the "experts": they are in control, and you aren't. You have a disease which can only be cured by medical intervention. You depend wholly on their advice, and their prescriptions to manage the internal conditions of your head.

The thrust of what I'm saying, is that any movement away from personal control of your circumstances is a movement towards helplessness and associated depression. Therefore, it seems to me the very people claiming to "heal" the illnesses of mild to moderate depression, and chronic anxiety, are in fact creating them.

We are told we are "victims" of genetics, society, biochemical imbalances, parental upbringing, etc., etc. All of us exist as elements within the system we are describing, so none of us can claim impartiality. I can't be a member of a football game, and attain the distance of a blimp. The blimp can't see what I can see. If impartiality is not an option--and BTW current physical models seem to indicate that we may literally influence physical reality in the process of observing even it--then no one can pronounce upon anything with finality, especially as it relates to individual consciousness.

However, since we exist as members of systems, we are both influenced by, and influence the system as a whole. The content of my beliefs affects my actions, which in turn in turn affect my perceptions, which affect my beliefs.

If I told by "experts" that I am stuck as the person I am, with little or no chance to control anything, then that is a form of helplessness. If I feel helpless, then I act helpless. If I act helpless, it quickly becomes clear that I am helpless. If I am helpless, then obviously, so the thinking goes, I AM helpless. My belief is accurate. You get caught uncritically in a spiral like that, you will never get out.

The role of psychology ought properly to be to get people out of that loop. If you take medication, and it gives you a sense of renewed control and power, I think that's a great thing. The shrinks have done their job. My only concern is that reliance on ANY external authority, especially in an area as personal as the contents of your own brain, is always potentially disempowering, and offers a slippery slope for the unwary.

My first post above was originally going to be a discrete post, and I played with different titles, including "CrossFit as psychotherapy", but I saw your post, and it was so close, I just went for it. I didn't mean to steal your thunder, and certainly not to downplay the extent of whatever biochemical imbalances you may be suffering from, or the extent of your bravery in mentioning them in public.

These ideas here are just little fountains coming out of the rock. There are massive underground streams out of which they arise, which I don't come even remotely close to having the time to share, here. I really think I could write a halfway decent book. My schedule is so screwed though, that it's going to have to be at roughly a one to one ratio of writing/loss of sleep. I can't quit CrossFit, because it is my volitional medicine.
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Old 06-03-2006, 07:54 AM   #8
Barry Cooper
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Thinking about it, a couple more things. First, I think it's likely I myself have a mild mania of some sort. That's why my brain never stops ticking. It approaches an unpleasant fever at times. I have left myself 30 voicemails on different ideas in one day. But they are mostly good, I write them down, I move on, so it's really on balance a good thing.

Second, your post here is actually very encouraging on several scores. First, you yourself seem to have realized you need more control, and have on your own identified exercise as something you can control, and which affects your biochemical state in a positive way. This is a great sign.

Secondly, I am prepared to concede that bipolar disorder has roughly the physical reality as cancer. It is a condition. However, cancer has been known to spontaneously go into remission. This phenomenon is not well understood because it hasn't been well researched, presumably because it shouldn't happen. But it does. Likewise, because you have this disease today need not mean you will have it your entire life.

Third, as you likely know, the signficance of publicly admitting a disease of that sort is analogous to reaching the Acceptance stage of Kuebler-Ross's 5 stages of grieving. I'm sure you'd rather not have this illness. But you do.

Finally, I wanted to propose to you what seems like it would be a good therapeutic approach to many people, and may help with your condition. Do 4 things.

1. Do the WOD as close to as written as you can, 3 on/1 off, if you can. Other exercise will help, but in terms of shaking off learned helplessness, the harder the program, the greater the efficacy.

2. Follow the Zone diet, and take as much high grade fish oil as you can without getting diarhea.

3. Learn a formal deep relaxation method. Initially, the easiest thing might be to go to a hypnotherapist, and just have them put you in a light trance, with no suggestions other than maybe being able to realize the same level of relaxation on your own. Hypnosis is little other than deep relaxation. If that doesn't work, try things on your own, or take a yoga class. Bottom line: learn to get really, really deep.

4. When you are working, do one thing at a time. One of the quickest ways to get depressed is to get overwhelmed into helplessness, by trying to eat an elephant in one bit. Whatever you do, take it one step at a time, and don't worry about perfection.

Obviously, if you are on meds, stay on meds until your doctor tells you otherwise, but like anything else a disease like that exists on a continuum from bad to better, and if you can improve it even slightly, that's a good thing.
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Old 06-03-2006, 02:47 PM   #9
Simon Benoit
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I'm suffering from Bi-Polar Disorders myself. I always felt different, marginal, but only learned the truth 5 years ago. It had the effect of a bomb on me, I wasn't accepting all this. That was mostly because of my ignorance/fear of the subject. Besides that, the shame coming with the "mentally hill" title got me so down. Accepting it & getting rid of the shame was the hardest part. I had to kick my *** to go get the help needed. It took me 4 out of 5 years to accept it and I couldn't have made it without the support of my family & my best friend.

Talking helps and I strongly recommend professionals cause they're here to help you, not to judge. Loved ones can have bad reactions to this kind of revelations, but they still deserve the truth. Just choose the right moment.

In my case ramping up to mania can lead to psychosis, paranoia or just to a RAVE party :biggrin:. Anything I like/hate can turn into an obsession. The other side of the medal is depression...

I still manage to live normally, even stopped my meds April of last year. Training helped me a lot in this step because of the confidence it builds. Still the key to a better living is BALANCE, and training is only a part of it. This applies to anyone [with or without mood disorders].


(Message edited by mindfool_80 on June 03, 2006)

(Message edited by mindfool_80 on June 03, 2006)
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Old 06-04-2006, 10:54 AM   #10
Robert Dobo
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Simon, you sum things up really well, most people have the same reaction when they finally accept the fact that they are for use of a bad term 'Mentally Ill'. Thats a real bad term though because it doesn't decribe the illness, it is a broad term that could mean anything. You don't dismiss a Diabetic as simply 'physically ill' no they are just Diabetic. You are not mentally ill, you are Bi-Polar, as am I.

Barry, your 4 things to do are right on the money, a good diet, exercise, meditation, and baby steps are all great coping mechanisms to help gain control of your mood.

(Message edited by robert_dobo on June 04, 2006)
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