by Tennile Sunday
I’m sure everyone knows that there is a link between exercise and happiness for some people – there are countless studies out there that show that many of us are happier when we’re active. One night, after weeks of being completely depressed, I stayed up late reading several such papers. The following day, in a haze of rare optimism, I created a new life plan.* It involves therapy, yoga, medication, and running. I had hoped this plan would not only help me improve my mental health, but also allow me to accurately trace my healing progress. I figured that if I tracked everything, including my running time and my moods, on a day by day basis, it would at least give me some concept of how effective these new “treatments” are, and what kind of “dosages” I need to accomplish my goal; basically I have been thinking of running as another kind of anti-depressant.
And, so it began. I chose a basic 5k plan to start; I’m not training for any races, so I thought it would be an easy enough introduction. I decided to use the Color Run’s training plan, which begins the trainee with 8 sets of running for one minute and walking for 90 seconds. The first couple of days were extremely easy for me (to put this into perspective, I have no physical disabilities, and I have been moderately active all my life). I wanted to throw myself into this plan with great vigor, however it mostly felt like I had to drag myself onto the running path, or treadmill, and then begrudgingly complete my workout. I was still quite depressed, but after getting into a routine, I noticed some minor overall mood improvements; they were sporadic, and didn’t always last, but were certainly better than no change at all.
By the time I reached week 4 and I was at 4 sets of 6 minutes of running and 2 minutes of walking, I noticed that it was difficult for me – like, really, really difficult – my body wasn’t tired whatsoever, but I found myself gasping for air. Since I’ve never had a problem with physical activity before, I figured it would get easier with practice, and despite my discomfort, I stuck with the running schedule. Later, I had an appointment with my doctor for something unrelated, and she noticed what she thought could be a heart murmur. I went for a 3d echocardiogram, and learned that I have a minor heart problem, which – surprise, surprise – can make running really, really difficult. Overexertion can be fatal for people with this problem. (more inside…)