Exercising to beat depression: Rob's story

Rob Otley with his son

Exercising can help boost your mood and self-esteem, so can help tackle symptoms of depression. Rob Otley, 40, from Cornwall, found getting active helped him fight back after heart problems.

“On my 38th birthday I had what I thought was a panic attack. The doctor told me I should make lifestyle changes, so I stopped drinking, quit smoking, got fit, ate healthily, and over six months I lost four-and-a-half stone.

There were setbacks and days when I had to force myself out of bed. The fight gets easier the more you step out of your comfort zone.

Seven months later, I had a heart attack, and went into cardiac arrest. I found out my left main coronary artery was 100 per cent blocked, mainly due to 20 years of smoking.

Afterwards, I became a very bitter, angry person. I took it out on my doctor, even though it’s very difficult to diagnose heart problems in a seemingly healthy 38-year-old. I became angry at everyone who I believed deserved a heart attack more than me – smokers, overweight people, drinkers, generally all unhealthy people. I couldn’t believe I’d become the healthiest I’d ever been, then had a heart attack.

This went on for a few months. I isolated myself and couldn’t leave my bedroom. I didn’t want to see my wife, kids or friends, and slept until the afternoon. I wanted to end it, I couldn’t see any future.

Rob Otley with his wife and children

The first step was trying to engage with my family again, talking. There were a lot of tears. Once you know that what’s outside your door is OK, it gets easier. I needed to make the mental decision to snap out of it.

Small steps are the only way. I bought a cheap exercise bike and cross trainer, and did the odd five minutes. It felt good to be able to go further in a shorter time.

Rob Otley with his sonThere were setbacks and days when I had to force myself out of bed. The fight gets easier the more you step out of your comfort zone. Now I walk five miles every other day with the dog, and I’m doing a Hadrian’s Wall walk in 2018 for the BHF, with my wife and two kids (pictured above, with Rob).

I think anyone who does exercise will know it makes you feel alive. It also helped with my anxiety and self-confidence. Now I can truly say I’m a happy individual.”

The benefits of getting active

Being active could help treat your depression by releasing feel-good brain chemicals and improving self-esteem. “Even a little exercise can give us a sense of achievement, which might boost our mood,” says Dr Jim Bolton, Chair of Liaison Psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Ask your GP about exercise programmes available on prescription, as there may be local exercise programmes available for free or at a reduced cost.

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