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Physical fitness helps mental health, too

Published: Thursday, Oct. 15 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Stacie Geogh, left, and her sister Jamie Moser work out with weights at Brad Behle's Adventure Boot Camp at Riverfront Park in South Jordan.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SOUTH JORDAN — Five years ago, exercise helped Debbie Behle break free from a debilitating depression brought on by the death of her oldest son.

Three years ago, it cured her of osteoporosis.

"I always believed so much in the value of exercise," said Behle, a 53-year-old mother of five. "Not necessarily for the shape of my body, but for my head. I was able to sleep. I was able to deal with things."

Always active, Behle didn't see the need to join a gym or workout every day until she suffered the kind of heartbreak that never really heals.

It was the afternoon of July 5, and a hysterical phone call from her daughter-in-law informed Behle that her 27-year-old son wasn't breathing.

"They knew him because he drove the ambulance in Tooele," Behle said of rescue crews. "They worked on him for two hours."

Jason Behle died in his sleep, suffocated by sleep apnea and enlarged tonsils. In the days and weeks that followed his funeral, his mother found herself in an unfamiliar place. She was swimming in sadness, unable to do simple things like sleep. She turned to antidepressants to get through the long, lonely days, and she relied on sleeping pills to bring her peace in the dark nights.

"You know how you feel like you just want to lock yourself in your room? Well, I did that for a while," she said. "And then I thought, I have four other kids, I have grandkids, I have a husband."

To stay in the pain that was consuming her was to relinquish her own life, a life she loved.

"After he died, I was pretty messed up," she said. "Then I realized I would miss out on life if I chose to keep doing that … I usually allow myself one day a year, usually his death day, when I am a wreck."

Every other day, she wakes up at 5 a.m. and heads to a park in South Jordan where another son, Brad Behle, runs her through exercises.

She is a member of a women's only fitness class designed by him as part of his year-old business, Wasatch Adventure Boot Camp. Brad Behle is her second-oldest son and has always been involved in fitness and personal training.

About nine months after Jason Behle's death, his mother decided there was no pill that would make her feel better. She'd lost her son. She might never get over that loss. But she wasn't going to let her grief steal her life, as well. So she stopped taking her prescriptions and joined a gym. She began taking vitamins instead, and then she asked Brad Behle for help in trying to sweat her way out of the sadness.

"It was kind of my renewal," she said. "I decided I needed to deal with things."

And deal with them she did. She worked out, and she and her family organized fundraising events, including two motorcycle charity rides, in Jason Behle's honor.

"I was doing pretty good," she said. And then she got busy, and exercise became less of a priority.

"I went to the doctor and had a bone scan, and they told me I had osteoporosis," she said. Along with the diagnosis, doctors handed her a prescription.

She turned to her son Brad once again.

"He started working with me on weight-bearing exercises like bands and kettlebells," she said. "I honestly did that religiously."

A year later, she returned to the doctor's office for a bone scan — without ever filling that first prescription.

"He said, 'Whatever you're doing, keep it up,' " she said with a little giggle. "I was fine. He said I was within normal ranges … It just re-emphasized to me how important exercise was."

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