You really can sweat out your demons

May 07, 2015
Ashley Ann Lawrie

exercise and depression

There is no denying exercise is a great mood enhancer and stress reliever. Pushing your limits and achieving goals in the gym is a positive coping mechanism that builds confidence, distracts from negative thoughts and leads you to interact more with others.

Ryan Anglehart is a wholehearted believer. He’s a man who can bench more than 300 pounds, but he also knows what it is like to shoulder the burden of a mental illness.

Ryan has long enjoyed lifting weights. He worked out on his own for about six years, before deciding to seek out the help of a personal trainer to help him break out of a rut and take his training to the next level.

A referral led him to Free Form Fitness, but he had barely started before he suffered from a major depressive episode.

Depression is far more impactful than just feeling down in the dumps. It’s a profound loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities that can change a person’s behaviour and personality, and can also affect eating habits, memory, concentration, sleep patterns and physical health.

“You just don’t want to do anything,” Ryan said.

For seven months, he battled the disorder by taking time off, hitting the cardio machine and attending courses to help him manage stress.

Through it all, the support of his wife and family was pivotal, but the biggest change came when he got himself back to the gym.

“Eventually I decided to get out of the house and back on the road to recovery,” he said. “A big part of that was coming here with a trainer who understands and appreciates the struggles you are going through without any judgment. It was a key part of my recovery. I can’t put a price on it.”

The relationship between exercise and depression isn’t clear. According to the Mayo Clinic, it may be related to the fact that exercise makes the body release feel-good brain chemicals such as endorphins, reduces the immune system chemicals that can worsen depression and increases body temperature, which can have a calming effect.


A year later, Ryan is still pushing his limits with the FFF team. He’s long since returned to work at the Royal Canadian Mint and is looking forward to the birth of a daughter with his wife.

“It’s been a great ride so far,” he said. “I’ve developed muscles I didn’t even know I had. The rigour of lifting weights really lets the stress out. On my own, I got myself to about 75 per cent of where I wanted to be. With (personal trainer) Ryan (Brown) I’ve surpassed 100 per cent and it’s not even the full story yet.”

What goal is he reaching for? Ryan comes from a family of big men, so keeping his body fat down to show off that hard-won muscle is sometimes a challenge.

“I would like to feel comfortable enough to sit down without a shirt on,” he said.

What advice does he have for others struggling with depression?

“If you have a fitness interest already and you are going through any kind of depression, the only consolation I can offer is that it is going to get better,” he said. “You have to get moving. Coming here got me moving and I haven’t stopped since.”

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