In recent years, researchers have investigated the psychological effects of exercise for people with mental health problems, often by focusing on how exercise may alleviate symptoms of mental illness. In this article I take a different tack to explore the ways in which exercise contributed a sense of meaning, purpose, and identity to the life of one individual named Ben, a runner diagnosed with schizophrenia. Drawing on life history data, I conducted an analysis of narrative to explore the narrative types that underlie Ben's stories of mental illness and exercise. For Ben, serious mental illness profoundly disrupted a pre-existing athletic identity removing agency, continuity, and coherence from his life story. By returning to exercise several years later, Ben reclaimed his athletic identity and reinstated some degree of narrative agency, continuity, and coherence. While the relationships between narrative, identity, and mental health are undoubtedly complex, Ben's story suggests that exercise can contribute to recovery by being a personally meaningful activity which reinforces identity and sense of self.
- physical activity
- mental health