Can Depression Be Treated With Physical Exercise?

Depression afflicts about 5 percent of adults in all developed countries. It is a major cause of disability. The disability rate is even higher in those with mild depression. The main symptom
of depression is fatigue. Fatigue is a low level of physical and mental energy. 

People with depression often have other chronic medical issues, like heart disease. Over time, depression influences how people live. It can lower self-esteem and motivation. It can have negative effects on close relationships and can alter your relationship with food. In other words, depression makes everyday life harder. 

Current standard therapy for depression is drug treatment, the effectiveness of which is not well documented in older adults. 

Research shows that regular moderate or vigorous physical activity and exercise improves mental well-being. It also helps with other symptoms of depression. For example, active people are 45 percent less likely to develop symptoms of depression. The effects are similar to those after drug therapy. Exercise is a mighty depression fighter for numerous reasons. Most importantly, it encourages all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that elevate feelings of peace and well-being. It also releases endorphin's, strong chemicals in your brain that excite your spirits and make you feel good. Lastly, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.

Does the type of exercise make a difference? Most studies show that moderate to high levels of physical activity reduce symptoms more than lighter levels. There are many different modes of performing this type of exercise.

Moderate activity and exercise include but are not limited to the following:
* Walking at a moderate or brisk pace of 3 to 4.5 mph
* Low-grade hiking
* Roller skating
* Weight training
* Yoga
* Gymnastics
* Dancing
* Recreational games
Vigorous activity and exercise include but are not limited to the following: 
* Aerobic walking at 4.5 mph or higher
* Jogging or running
* Mountain climbing, rock climbing, backpacking
* Bicycling
* Circuit weight training
* Karate, judo, tae-kwon-do, jujitsu
* Boxing
* Competitive sports
* Roller skating or in-line skating at a brisk pace 

The research isn't clear on the minimal or best amount of exercise needed, but I do know that you don’t need a high fitness level to get the benefits. At the end of the day, being regularly active is more important than being fit.

I am empathetic to the fact that the last thing a person wants to do when they are depressed is exercise or be physically active. But I encourage you to try some form of physical activity that is comfortable. Even it is just cleaning your house or working in the yard for a little while. Even just a few minutes of physical activity is better than none at all. If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time. The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more. 

The key is to commit to doing some moderate physical activity on most days. As exercising becomes a habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.

Becoming More Self-Aware

Do you think that you are self-aware? I find that there are a few categories that most people will fall in. Some people either don't give self-awareness any thought or think that they are perfectly self-aware when in fact they are very much the opposite. Many avoid any thought or mention of self-awareness because they are aware of their short comings and don't want to be reminded of them.

Self Awareness is having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions.

As you develop self awareness you are able to make changes in the thoughts and interpretations you make in your mind. Self awareness is one of the attributes of Emotional Intelligence and an important factor in achieving weight loss success.

I believe that it is safe to say that most of us live our lives on autopilot. In a way it makes a complicated and busy life easier to deal with. In a world where we have so much going on around us and it is hard for us to be present, we seek out ways to help us stay on autopilot. We allow ourselves to develop habits, many of them don't improve our health, in order to cope. In a lot of what we do we become automaton like, and life floats on by. We get up in the morning and take stimulants to get us through the day. We go to work and sit for 8 hours, come home and sit for another 4 hours and then go to bed only to start over again tomorrow. We fail to notice what's going on around us. We don't notice very much at all, particularly about ourselves. Things just happen to our health and we seem to lose track of them. Something common I hear when talking to a client who wants to lose weight is, "I don't know how I got overweight, I sort of woke up one day and knew I needed to make some changes."

When occasionally we are made to confront the real world, or the world we have unknowingly created for ourselves, it makes us so unhappy that we usually crawl back into our shells and continue on as before. It can be scary for someone to hear they are prediabetic and it is easier to just stay on the course that they are on and hope for the best rather than trying to change.

The secret of successful weight loss, and permanent weight loss in particular, is self-awareness. The only way to lose weight permanently is to make personal change. If you are not aware of your bad habits and of what has to be changed, then the task is almost impossible. If food is a coping strategy for when you are stressed but you haven't been real with yourself and admitted that, then true change can't take place.

Becoming more self-aware is not difficult but it does take work. Here are a few helpful tools that could help you improve your self -awareness.

1. You should develop a daily practice of setting aside at least twenty minutes to reflect on your life. This practice enables you to focus on the important things in your life, not just the immediate. Reflection takes many forms. Some keep a journal, some pray, and others take a long walk or jog. I use my workout time as a time of reflection.

2. Ask friends to call you out when you are doing a behavior you already know you want to change. For instance, “Look, I know I will be motivated to go to the gym on Monday but by Wednesday I will make excuses not to go. Can you text me and ask me if I have exercises Wednesday through Friday?"

The more self-aware you become, the more self-confident you will feel. You will be in a far better position to take informed, responsible decisions about your health and your weight. Being able to lose weight and keep it off will very soon become a reality.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Have you ever felt like making a change was hard unless you were forced to make it. It seems the more we need to make a significant change, the harder it is to get going on it may be. 

Striving to do things differently is energizing and difficult at the same time.  An idea for a fresh start occurs to us and we revel in excitement at first. The commitment to it can even feel good too. But then comes the difficulty of following through. And this is where the rubber hits the road. Quitting a smoking habit is going to be hard. But improving your lifestyle so you can see your kids grow old is something that you are passionate about. But that won't be enough. It's a lifelong commitment and you have to have all your ducks in a row. In order for you to be successful at quitting you have to manage stress a different way, and approach your day to day with some flexibility. Because initial excitement will wear off. 

Some people do not like to make health and fitness goals because it makes them have to step outside of their comfort zone. It's easier to stay the same. The effort to lose weight, change a unhealthy addiction, or be discipline about going to the gym can be challenging. 

What makes us change then?

It turns out that some people make changes when they have to, not when they want to. Of course this isn't always true. But making the uncomfortable decisions on a daily basis to bring about change can be a daunting task. It’s just that the changes we most desire are hard, involving emotional responses that can be tricky to identify and challenging to unseat. We often need urgency to bring about change. For example, let's say you had a doctors appointment to get blood work done. The results came back showing that you now have Type II Diabetes. Your doctor informs you of all the health implications that come along with the illness and you are now scared straight. You immediately go home and start to examine what you haven’t wanted to see.  You realize all the mindless snacking you partake in, the liters of soda you consume daily, and the unhealthy choices you make on a consistent basis. You immediately start to put forth the effort to bring about change. A crisis often supplies the right kind of push and readiness. Necessity is a more powerful motivator than preference, willpower, or even a loved one’s begging. That is a sad truth. 

My father would always tell me to do things that make me uncomfortable until they become easy or comfortable to do. Some people may have the capacity to force themselves over the hump of deep hesitancy, but most of us take the path of least resistance day by day.

Everyone has the capacity to become mentally stronger.  And everyone has room for improvement. Changing the way you think, feel, and behave isn't an easy task. It takes dedication and commitment.

Just like going to the gym a few times won't make you physically strong, developing your mental muscle is also a lifelong process. Mental strength takes years to build and a lifetime to maintain.

Not everyone wants to improve their lives. And that's OK. Some people are afraid of the hard work, and others doubt their ability to create positive change. But if you want to challenge yourself to become the best you can, increasing your mental muscle will take you to the next level. I've seen it early in my career of 1 on 1 personal training, through virtual coaching with my clients through WebFit, and in my own life.

Your mind can be your biggest asset or your worst enemy. When you learn how to train it well, you can accomplish incredible feats. But it starts with doing what is hard on a regular basis. 

Philosopher William James said, “Do at least two things every day that you don’t want to do, for the very reason that you don’t want to do them.” 

Practice being uncomfortable. 

Why Can't I Look Like That

Wake up. Shower. Brush teeth. Mirror. Endlessly Stare.

“I wish I had a different nose and bigger lips”

 “Ugh, I hate my arms.”

“Geez….those eyes look more like the amazon.”

“I look too muscular… no guy will like me.”

“Why can’t I look like the fitness model on my Instagram?”

“I wish I was her/him.”

 When you peak inside the brain of a girl or maybe some guys, you may find these horrible and detrimental thoughts that have been eating and tearing away at their inner and outer beauty. Their negative thoughts are brought to them by comparison.

I have fallen victim to the callous act of comparison.

I truly believe that social media has accomplished more insecurities and concerns amongst my generation.

Nowadays we aimlessly scroll through our Facebook and Instagram only to compare how we look or how we don’t look to others.

There is so much animosity between girls and even some guys, which is just so crazy to me because it use to not be like that.

 When people compare themselves to others, they are immediately starting a losing battle.

We cannot change into another person, but you can change your health status, physical appearance and the way you perceive yourself. This is done by sticking to an individualized exercise program, meal plan and managing stress.

No. You will not look like Jane Doe in you Instagram photos nor will anyone look like you. We are all individually and uniquely made. 

Stop feeding into a vicious cycle of comparing yourself or trying to be like someone when you are so special in your own way.

What is emotional eating?

Are you hungry? How how often do you think about food during your day? 

Hunger is something vicious to manage. Have you ever asked yourself if you are emotionally hungry or physically hungry?

Eating is not just about eating. You eat because you are hungry of course. But you also indulge when you're bored, lonely, tired, angry, frustrated, and even happy. 

There is a difference between hunger and appetite. Hunger is physiological. It is a signal from the body. When you start to hear your stomach grumble then that is a physical sign that it is time to eat. The hunger gets a little more aggressive when you start to hear that growling in the stomach. When you are physically hungry, you are open to options as to what food or combination of foods will please you.

Appetite is psychological. It is a craving for certain foods without the feeling of hunger accompanying it. Psychological hunger is not caused by an actual physical pain or need for food to survive. Psychological hunger comes from a desire to eat either out of habit, because you see good food around you, because you are emotional or upset, or because it tastes good and is “fun.” Have you ever noticed that when you eat dessert at the end of a meal, you aren’t physically hungry for it … but you still eat it? You may even feel full … but you still eat it.  This desire to eat something sweet after a meal, almost as though you aren’t finished unless you have that sweet thing, is a form of psychological hunger.

The idea that you can diet by ignoring your psychological hunger underestimates the power that your mind exerts over your actions. Instead of seeing the aesthetic goals you have in written down, you see the intensity of your psychological hunger increasing until it is too difficult to deny. 

How do you control psychological hunger?

First you must recognize the difference between your physical hunger and psychological hunger. Look for triggers to your psychological hunger and develop strategies to either limit your exposure to these triggers or come up with alternative behaviors for dealing with them. Mental toughness is an illusion and a limited resource.

Unmet emotional needs, stress, anger, depression, boredom and simple habit can cause psychological hunger to spiral out of control.

Here are some of the principles I have lived by that help me and the individuals I guide down this journey.
1) Plan your meals at least the day before. Prepare your meals and snacks the night before.
2) Always have something healthy to eat within arm’s reach or a short walk to the fridge.
3) Keep tempting foods out of the house/office until your self awareness improves. When you find yourself sad, anxious, stressed, or bored, seek social support or exercise. Both provide mood benefits and are positive actions to take.
4) Work on becoming more mindful and accepting of your emotions as they are.

Practice basic mindfulness skills like scanning your body to notice any feelings. Observe and describe where and how you feel those emotions. Allow yourself to sit with them without trying to change them or make them go away. See if you can imagine making room for them and allowing them to come and go naturally. Learn this skill well and you can step out of the emotional eating carousel almost entirely.

Finally, you can learn to measure the long term cost of emotional eating. 

Have you ever noticed that after you have had that bag of chips you don't quite feel that sense of relief anymore? The short term comfort you get from eating is replaced by guilt or shame soon after. This can become a vicious cycle.  If you feel guilty or shameful about what you ate, and you want to feel better right now, guess what. Food is there for you again. And the cycle continues. You may experience stress from a difficult day at work, but now you added shame to that. That’s a big cost, and the cost shows up because you said that you have to change the state of mind you are experiencing. So there is a cost to being unwilling to feel what we feel. It has long term health implications if your primary coping strategy is eating. Practice bringing this cost to your awareness. Get to a place where you say, “If I eat this cake now I will feel better for a short time and then worse later on and I will also have harmed my health a little.” 

The goal isn’t to make the healthy choice every time. The goal is to make it a choice, as opposed to automatically eating. Over time perhaps you start choosing health more.