Thursday, August 11, 2011

Exercise is Medicine (Step 3 of 6)

Okay friends, on to step three: Exercise.

Everyone knows that exercise is beneficial for our physical health, but many don't realize how equally important it is for our mental health. "Exercise is medicine-one that affects the brain more powerfully than any drug" (117).  The great Dr. Ilardi mentions clinical studies that has even proved that quote, comparing Zoloft with exercise among depressed patients, and the conclusion was that in the long term, the exercisers remained depression-free.
I remember I used to love working out.  Even before I lost my weight (when I was 27, I lost 16-20lbs), I used to enjoy exercise on a weekly basis, at least.  Then when I started on my weight loss program, I loved it even more.  I became a machine... running more than I ever thought I could, and even called myself a "runner".  I remember feeling the best I ever have, mentally and physically.  My workouts, however, came to a stop when I pulled a hamstring, and ever since then have had aches and pains while out on the road.  Then I started making more excuses, and before I knew it, my work outs went from five times a week to one, if that.
When you are depressed, exercise isn't even in your vocabulary.  Depression robs you of your energy and motivation.  Your body actually feels heavy, as if your bones were weights, and the last thing you feel like doing is going to the gym!  So how in the heck do you get motivation and energy to even start this "medicine"?  You start slow.  Instead of working out, do an activity that gets you out of the house and walking, like shopping for example.  "As it turns out, whenever we're caught up in enjoyable, meaningful activity, our tolerance for exercise goes up dramatically" (118).  If you do an engaging activity every day, your energy goes up a little bit more and you can move on to other activities/exercises.
There are seven things the book discusses about exercise and it working as an anti-depressant.

  • One: Make it aerobic.  "A workout is aerobic whenever it gets your pulse between 60%-90% of your maximum heart rate" (120).  An easy way to do find your heart rate while working out is to count your pulse in 6 seconds, take that number and multiply it by 10 and you have your heart rate, or buy a heart rate monitor watch.
  • Two: Choose an activity.  Walking, gardening, sports, anything that gets your heart rate up.
  • Three: Determine how much, how long and how often.  "The best research suggests that it takes only ninety minutes of aerobic activity each week to provide an antidepressant affect" (124).  That's it.. and here I was, after my depression, trying to make myself work out everyday and then quitting cause it was too much.  Three thirty minute aerobic workouts a week is perfect (plus extra 5 minutes before to warm up).
  • Four:  Make it enjoyable.  Stop making yourself do something you don't want to do.  Make it social by hiring a personal trainer, or working out with a buddy.  Make it absorbing by playing your favorite music or listen to audio books while you are on the treadmill.  Make it purposeful, for example, an activity in your own backyard: gardening, raking, shoveling, etc.  Or just the mere fact that you are fighting depression is your goal, use that as a purpose.
  • Five: Create a schedule.  Set aside an hour and make it a routine.  Having it written down in your schedule, to work out every two/three days, will make it a habit and it will start to stick.
  • Six:  Make your workout specific but flexible.  If you aren't enjoying what you are doing at first, you have to change it up or you will quit.
  • Seven:  Be accountable.  Find someone who will keep you accountable.  Even if you have to call a friend from another state and have them call you and say "did you get your work out in?", it will help.
I have started my omega-3s and this week has been a good week (though omega-3s can take up to a few weeks to feel a difference).  Tuesday I felt a little crappy, but I went to the gym and worked out and guess what?  My mood was much better afterward.  Literally, I had no energy, a little sad, didn't want to work out at all, but I pushed myself to do just 30 minutes and I left the gym feeling lighter.  After reading this chapter, I think I might actually challenge myself and make my work outs in the morning, that way I will be in a good mood all day :o)

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