When one partner struggles with depression, it can take a toll on both partners, and on the relationship itself. There is great news for those with depression, and their partners: 30 years of research by clinicians and psychologists has found that for mild to moderate depression, exercise is at least as effective as medication and therapy. And you get all the other benefits of better physical health: being in shape, having more energy, and reducing weight. Plus, as you’ve all heard many times, exercise lowers the risk of many illnesses—heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer—and extends the average life span.
For the complete article and information about the studies, please see Why Exercise May Be the Best Fix for Depression in the January 2017 issue of Scientic Amercian Mind (SAM). I’ll share a bit of it here. I’ve seen the ravages that depression can cause to individuals, relationships, and families.
The researchers asked, “Can a steady routine of physical workouts really help to keep psychological disorders in check?” And the answer that has come to light through the research and by looking at the overall data of many research projects is that “in the case of depression, the collective evidence to date suggests that the answer is an emphatic yes.
Exercise is by no means a panacea, and in severe cases of depression, it may be futile on its own. But scores of experiments now show that exercise is much more than a temporary distraction from mental woes or some ultimately inconsequential palliative. It appears to combat depression in a number of ways: by strengthening our biochemical resilience to stress, encouraging the growth of new brain cells, bolstering self-esteem and possibly even counterbalancing an underlying genetic risk for mental illness. For most people with mild to moderate depression, exercise is one of the strongest, safest, most practical, most affordable and even enjoyable treatments available.”
According to the World Health Organization, 18 million people in the U.S. suffer from depression. And standard treatment only helps a third of those who do seek treatment. Many people don’t want to take medication for depression, and for many who do, there are side effects that are a turn off – weight gain, decreased libido, etc.
The SAM article shares the details of many studies and explains the neuroscience of why exercise helps. Here’s what the people themselves have shared: “exercise energizes them, gives them a sense of purpose and achievement, elevates their self-esteem and mood, regulates appetite and sleep cycles, and distracts them from negative thoughts. For those who exercise in a group, it can also provide a welcome opportunity for social interaction.”
There isn’t a consensus yet on how much exercise, or how vigorous the exercise needs to be. “Trivedi prescribes three to five 45- to 60-minute sessions of aerobic exercise (walking, running, cycling, or using a treadmill, stationary bike or elliptical trainer) each week at an intensity of 50 to 85 percent maximum heart rate.”
If you’ve ever been depressed, you know that motivation is very hard to come by. Getting up and getting going may be the biggest challenge at first. “Jennifer Carter, director of sport psychology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, has come up with a bevy of practical tips, among them: ‘Notice the facts,’ she advises. ‘For example, there are 1,440 minutes in a day. Perhaps you can find 30 of those to exercise.’
I hate sweating; old story. I finally found aqua aerobics in 2002. I love it. It’s fun, there’s music, I’m sweating, but it’s in the water so I don’t feel it and that makes it okay with me. And after four years of taking classes, I became an instructor myself. I do enjoy Aqua Zumba, too.
Start. Take a walk for 10 minutes each day. Then 15. Build up. Try different types of exercise. Let me know how exercise changes your life. For yourself, your marriage, and for your kids: “Just Do It” as the Nike slogan says.