A Mental Refuge in Physical Exercise

Today was a great day in the gym, I lifted more weight than I had been able to push for many years. Why the sudden change? Because of CANCER! Not mine, but my fathers. He was diagnosed with colon cancer 2 months ago and they went in and removed a mass. It seemed like he was on the road to recovery, except, it has spread. They have found more in other locations and his prognosis is not good. He is not in stage 4, or even stage 3, but he believes that he will not live to see this summer. And he is probably right. The same thing happened to his father. A diagnosis of cancer and he suddenly lost hope in living. He died 2 weeks later.
I teach the Military that being physically healthy is one pillar of resiliency (being able to withstand the challenges life puts against you). Physical strength helps you battle adversity in life. Exercise helps your body stay healthy, even when you may not feel like you are at 100%. When people exercise consistently they usually are more social, they are around people in the gym and not so isolated (even if you are wearing your headphones and not talking), and they also tend to also eat healthier.
I read an article years ago that posed the idea that during physical exercise more blood flow is pushed to the working muscles, therefore, during exercise you cannot dwell on mental problems and your brain gets a break from stress. I am not sure if this is correct, all I know is that when I exercise, my mental outlook is better. I feel that I can overcome the challenges that lay ahead and face them with optimism.
So today I lifted angry! I used the physical exercise to challenge the emotions and dread of what happens next. I continued to add weight to my lifts beyond what was on my workout program. The weights that were listed were easy and not providing the normal level of physical exertion or distraction that I was expecting. I added anywhere from 10 pounds to 40 pounds more too every exercise. This forced me to push harder than normal and when I was finished I did not feel most of the anger I had been experiencing about the situation. It felt like the clouds had parted slightly and the sun might actually appear.
What did I learn from this? My greatest physical limitation is how much I believe that I can lift. Obviously, I am physically stronger that I have let myself believe. Your mental belief is what determines your physical condition. In my case, years of prior injuries have made me conservative in my progression of training and I am limiting my own strength. In my father’s case, his belief that he will die soon means that he will probably not make it until this summer.
Several years ago my friend’s father was diagnosed with multiple forms of cancer and given 5 months to live if he was treated with chemotherapy. He chose not to undergo chemo for what he believed was a short benefit and went on to live for 18 months. Most of this was due to his optimistic beliefs that he was too much of an a**hole to die this early!
Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” Your actions follow your thoughts, so believe in yourself. And exercise, it can help those feelings of powerlessness in a situation. I know that after lifting heavy weights that I believe that I am more powerful and have hope for the future.
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