Feeling down-in-the-dumps lately? How about anxious or irritable? If so, join the club. It is estimated that 17 million people in the United States suffer from depression. Women are at a higher risk than men due to a variety of biological, social, and psychological causes (infertility; sexual abuse; poverty; being a minority, lesbian, adolescent, alcoholic or drug abuser; and having the personality style of being passive, dependent, pessimistic or negative in attitude and thinking). Also, men have different coping styles. Men are more likely to involve themselves in work, sports or going out with friends, all of which distract them from their worries and give them a sense of control. Women tend to dwell on their problems, often with other women.
Before you go running for the Prozac, consider it’s been proven that a program of exercise, coupled with counseling, can reduce depression and speed up the healing process. Exercise will elevate your mood, increase your metabolism, give you a higher energy level, decrease your stress, reduce your blood pressure, and lower your cholesterol – all important factors of the complex puzzle of depression. Also, by increasing energy levels, you alter your body chemistry. This could eliminate the need for medication (though this depends on the severity of depression). Ultimately, the need for medication must be monitored by a doctor.
Studies have found that exercise, whether mild or vigorous, makes a big difference in mild to moderate depression. Three studies compared exercise to psychotherapy, concluding that exercise was at least as effective. One study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests that emotional benefits from exercise are related to elevated feelings of self-confidence. When people believe they are capable of achieving more, it has a positive reinforcing effect.
Taking a walk when you’re anxious will reduce tension, while regular exercise encourages a calmer state of mind. One woman I know takes a walk through the grove of trees in back of her house, focusing on the chirping of the birds, the crunch underneath her feet, and the way the sun filters through the trees. She said when she was a little girl, she used to sing to the pixies and elves in this forest! A walk through these trees clears her mind and eases her mood instantly. A friend of mine in Canada takes a walk with her dog by the lake, sometimes going solo, other times bringing along another friend and her dog. An instant physical, mental, and spiritual booster.
Consider these other factors with respect to exercise and mood:
- Exercise boosts the quality and quantity of sleep. (Now who doesn’t feel better after a good night’s rest?)
- Exercise increases immunity, with regular exercise giving a 50% increase in the blood’s killer cell activity and up to 20% more virus antibodies. (You know – the mind-body connection thing.)
- Movement increases the blood and oxygen to the brain, which boosts mental sharpness, vigor, and creative thinking. (Who needs Gingko Biloba?!)
So what types of exercise are the best for combating depression or anxiety? Speed walking, jogging, aerobics, hiking, bicycling, rowing, and cross-country skiing are good, as these activities use the large muscle groups in a rhythmical way and give you a good aerobic workout. Throw in three days per week of strength-training of moderate intensity, and you’re on your way to feeling and looking your best.
As for counseling, according to Donna Bellafiore, LCSW, CADC, and Katharine Huss, Fitness Consultant, counseling can provide a mechanism for venting feelings and reducing thoughts that deplete energy. New skills learned in counseling are used for the handling of stressful situations that occur daily. These skills give a person new perspectives and a fresh way of looking at situations.
You have the power within to gain control over your life. Take time to take care of yourself by getting regular exercise and seeking counseling, if needed.