In late October last year, the youngest ever world champion in swimming and nine-time Olympic gold medalist, Ian Thorp, released his biography, This is Me. The Aussie sensation had shocked the sporting world when, in 2006 (at the age of 24), he turned his back on his much beloved sport at the pinnacle of his career, owing to an identity crisis: “What would I be if I didn't’ have swimming as the safety blanket it had become?” he asked himself. Thorp also struggled with depression, a disease he kept secret from even his closest family members. In an enlightening interview with The Scotsman’s Lee Randall, he observed a link between elite sportsmanship and depression: “When I look at my sport and others, the number of depressives appears to be higher than it is in the general population. I think we’re already in sport when we find out we have depression, rather than going into sport to combat depression, but it’s a really healthy thing to do… when I’m in a high-pressure situation, like competition, I manage my depression really well.” In 2010, Thorp returned to competitive swimming, but not before discovering hitherto unexplored interests like cooking, gardening and writing. Swimming, though, would always be his great love: “The water gives me respite. It’s one of the few places I can be completely comfortable with myself; a place where I’m truly happy,” he writes, yet he strongly laments that in sportsmanship, not enough importance is given to the whole individual; victory or defeat becomes the standard against which an athlete’s self-worth is measured.

Creativity and Depression: Dangerous Liaisons

So many aspects of Thorp’s beautifully written book are directly relevant to the struggles encountered by writers. As is the case with elite athletes, there is an inexorable link between verbal creativity and depression. The love of water becomes the love of the word, and we immerse ourselves in it, escaping from, or running towards, solitude and the familiar universe inside our mind. Like a competitive athlete, a novelist will measure his worth by his work’s commercial success or critical acclaim, often ploughing through what novelist Simon Brett aptly calls the ‘three-quarters sag’: “when the only thing you like less about what you’ve written so far is the ideas you have for finishing the book.” When writers do finally complete a novel after months or even years of work, says Brett, a 24-hour peak of euphoria is often followed by a dive into a pit of self-doubt, with depression or alcohol being an easy escape.

Shakespeare with a Six-Pack

The image of a taut, upbeat, athletic writer isn’t exactly something we’re used to seeing in the media. Yet in the same way that the physical and mental well-being of athletes depends on their ability to explore additional interests and talents, so too, a writer may be surprised to find magical moments and sensations in a world they never before imagined they could be part of: the world of sports.

Promising Findings:

New scientific evidence is backing the idea that a healthy diet and exercise can promote mental health. Two Danish studies involving over 73,000 adults suggests that chronic low-grade inflammation in the body contributes to the development of depression. The most common causes of inflammation are physical inactivity and an inadequate diet – two factors that are often prevalent in the lifestyles of full-time writers.

Sitting is the New Smoking

If you like to take a break from long writing sessions by reading the daily news, then the connection between sedentary lifestyles and everything from cardiovascular problems to hypertension, diabetes and even deep vein thrombosis, aren’t new to you. The key to combating these conditions, is twofold: we need to incorporate a 30/45-minute workout into our routine at least three times a week but we also need to avoid sitting for longer than around 40 minutes straight.

Take a Stand

Doctors are recommending that we make ourselves as mobile as possible as often as we can throughout the day; that means getting off the bus one stop before work and walking that extra mile, walking over to talk to a colleague instead of calling them on the phone and standing up every 40 minutes or so even if it is just to make a coffee or do a bit of stretching. The coolest new office accessory in the offices of trendy urbanites is the ‘standing desk’ (choose from the treadmill, elevator or classic models – yes, you can power walk while you type!).

New computer programmes are also incorporating mobility into daily office life. A patent-pending software launched by New York chiropractor, Gregory Soltanoff, provides users with hourly reminders to get up and move, and guides them through specific exercises and stretches.

If exercising in company is your thing, visit your local gym and ask about new fitness crazes like Crossfit, Kinesis or Corebar. These exercise regimes comprise aerobic and strength training, with an emphasis on developing main muscle groups (a great idea if your muscles have turned to putty over the past few years). A nice low-cost idea is to set up a basic gym at home or in your workplace, so you can complete one or more 10-minute workouts, even on the busiest of days. A simple set of dumbbells and barbells can be purchased for under $100 and there is a wide range of equipment designed to make weight training twice as effective.

Fat Gripz, for instance, is a simple device that clips onto your barbells to increase their width and thereby stimulate muscle activation. It's a great accessory for those seeking to build significant muscle mass.

Food for Thought:

Complement your exercise routine with a healthy diet; keep your carbohydrate consumption down if weight loss or high sugar levels are an issue, and above all, eat sensibly. We recommend celebrity nutritionist Keri Glassman’s book, The New You (And Improved!) Diet, which focuses on eating the right foods instead of growing obsessed with calorie counting. Glassman recommends consuming a whole food, plant-based diet that is high in anti-oxidants, low in sugar and includes plenty of fiber, Omega-3 fats and lean protein.

Free Your Mind:

Incorporating new practices into your daily routine can make health and well-being a much more amenable goal to pursue. Diffuse essential oil (peppermint and rosemary promote mental clarity and alertness) in your workspace and consult your doctor about the possibility of taking supplements and vitamins such as Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B12 and CoQ10, which also power the brain.

“When I first dive into the pool I try to work out how the water wants to hold me. If I let it, the water will naturally guide me into a position; a place for my body to settle, resting with my head down, almost meditating,” wrote Ian Thorpe in one of the many riveting passages in his book. As writers we should always let the written word hold and embrace us, without sinking so deep into it, that we lose sight of the complex, multi-faceted, healthy person we have the potential to be.