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Several years ago I battled with depression. It was hell. Thanks only to a dear friend who actually heard me, and realised the severity of my state, did things turn around. I’m happy and healthy now. But just as in addiction recovery, I have to make a conscious choice every day to shun the melancholic vortex and choose healthier paths. This takes energy.

Physical exercise takes energy as well. As an endurance athlete, I spend many hours each week in training: yoga, swimming, biking, running, strength workouts and more. I do it because I love moving my body, being fit and because it’s part of what helps support my mental and emotional health. In a way, it’s a stress reliever. However, if I train too hard, even over a relatively short period, it takes a toll on both my body and mind requiring a significant amount of time to recover.

Dr Stephen Seiler recently addressed the topic of “health first”. He points out that, “Health is the foundation, after providing for this platform, energy can go to developing the body. Resources are used for survival first then directed to absorbing training.” Life stress, tissue healing, and mental health must be accounted for when considering the effects of training. Exercise supports our health. In the simplest of terms, it provides life-giving oxygen to our cells and helps reduce inflammation. However, we also know that all stress, regardless of type—physical, psychological, emotional, work, etc.—can overload our systems and lead to unhealth.

Many training programs assume that all exercise is performed by a person with a fully healthy mind, body and spirit. In my experience, many of us have underlying issues of some kind. A model or plan must take this into account. We have to respect the intrinsic aspects of ourselves or risk sacrificing our health or undermining the possible benefits that exercise can provide.

In exercise prescription, we consider an athlete’s level of freshness (vs. fatigue). Models outline ‘optimal’ levels of chronic load to provide for physiological adaptation. While there are common principles, I’m increasingly discovering that each person has a different level that works for their system. I do my best work and enjoy life more when I’m fresher than the standards outline. No doubt, there’s a continuous flow of energy being devoted to my emotional wellbeing and spiritual development. I can dig deep for a while but if I go to the well too often it’ll start pulling me into the dark. I’ve been there. It’s no fun. I choose not to go there again.

I invest daily in six ‘Keystones To Health’ to help support me: Sleep, Nutrition, Community, Nature, Exercise, Meditation. Keep track of how your system works. Always be on the lookout for stressors that consume energy. Look for ways to replenish yourself. Respect the interplay.

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