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Can Exercise Really Help With Depression?

Everyone knows that exercise can help an individual improve their level of health and wellness, but how about with treating depression? While the mainstream medical community continues to focus on medications for treatment, many holistic health experts are looking at putting the body back in balance instead.

There are strong fundamental differences of opinion about how to treat depression depending on the doctor asked. Most will agree that serious imbalances require medication and supervised treatment. It’s with mild to moderate depression where the differences in opinion come in.

Tell me what’s wrong with you in 60 seconds or less…

Personally, I believe that due to the nature of health care as we know it (for better or for worse) we’ve got a system where many physicians are encouraged to write a quick prescription for someone showing signs of depression and get them out the door so they can bill the next patient with insurance.

Of course this isn’t happening with every physician, but let’s be honest here. You and I both know that things as a whole have changed with how we receive health care.

It used to be that your doctor would actually spend some time with you instead of racing to the next room. Don’t mean to sound like an old “fuddy duddy” but anyone over the age of 35 can attest to this.

It’s like there’s a race to see how many people they can see in a day. I guess this is exactly what’s happening in a lot of cases since insurance providers are the ones actually paying the bill. If they spend 2 minutes with you or 10 minutes, they get paid the same, so what do you expect?

Is our current health care model partly to blame for the over-prescribing of depression medications?

I would have to say the answer is certainly yes.  We’d be foolish to not factor this in as part of the discussion on the problem with why we’ve become over-medicated, yet overly depressed as a society.

As a people we have to share in the blame as we’re ultimately responsible for our own health, but there’s no denying that people tend to put trust in doctors and that can pose a fundamental problem when doctors are quick to write prescriptions instead of providing care.

If your physician quickly recommends that you take some Prozac to help take the edge off and deal with some mild depression, would you even blink an eye about getting the prescription filled? Think about this for a minute.

It’s like we have a mentality in this country that there’s a pill, shot, or some medication for everything. If there’s something wrong, you must need a pill because the doctor said so, right?

We’ve made huge jumps in medical science yet more people are depressed in this country than ever before.

The use of depression medications in this country has more than tripled in the last 50 years, but you don’t need to look at research to know we’re not making much real progress with fixing the root of the problem.

It makes you stop and think about whether or not our model for treatment is really the best we can do?

Don’t dare bring this question up to your neighbor who’s a doctor at the next dinner party. If he or she is part of the main stream medical community you may just hear a long dissertation on how us “common folk” don’t have the knowledge to decide for ourselves what’s best for our health.

We just need to leave such matters to the experts. Yeah, like we should just leave matters of our rights and personal freedoms to politicians. How’s that working out for us?

Be careful what you say and don’t go messing with the pharmaceutical industry!

My point is as soon as you question the long-term use of depression medication (or any medication for that matter) you’ll be chastised in some circles and attacked by the very people who have the most to lose by seeing the truth unveiled. It’s been happening for years.

Now once again, this isn’t to say that all depression medication is bad and shouldn’t ever be taken. I’m not one of those zealots who doesn’t see any benefit in traditional medicine. People who take that stand only ignore the obvious with how numerous people are being helped.

The thing that gets under my skin though is how the mainstream medical community fails to recognize ANYTHING positive that comes from a holistic or natural approach to healing.

The thought that something other than traditional medicine could heal is completely taboo. I think it’s a huge double standard and shows how much ego and arrogance you can find in these circles.

This couldn’t be more evident in how we deal with the treatment for depression. When most doctors are quick to write a prescription, I’m going to be the guy that stands up and says “hey wait a minute!”

Before you blindly jump on a bunch of pills to treat depression…

Ask yourself how much balance do you have in other areas of your life?

Depression often goes hand in hand with major life changes or trauma. Everything from sleep, exercise, diet, stress, and other changes will have an impact on the neurotransmitters in your brain.

Yeah, of course they’re all going to be off with any significant change in your life. Have you thought about these things before blindly accepting the “a pill must be the answer” approach?

The short term use of a medication can be very helpful in assisting you with getting to sleep after the loss of a loved one or some other traumatic event. But what happens after 4-6 weeks and you’re still on the medication and now you can’t get off?

Considering the big picture and long-term effects of taking any medication…

There are many issues with long-term use of any medication from addiction to hormonal imbalances. Of course each situation will be different but when feasible I’d be looking to try a natural approach to work on getting your body back in balance.

A body in optimal balance doesn’t need ANY medication! Think about that for a second. It amazes me how people can take a medication for years and never question it. Like it’s perfectly normal to be on a bunch of pills. This is B.S!

My rule of thumb for any major medical decision…

Once again I know this is a tricky subject because some people really do need the medication, so absolutely consult with your physician. Better yet, consult with several physicians and make sure to speak with a doctor who specializes in organic medicine or holistic approaches as well.

Get several opinions on any health issue where you might be taking a medication for a while or be requiring surgery. This should be standard operating procedure for anyone.

Exercise and depression, will it really help or not?

When it comes to exercise helping with depression, I think there’s no denying the benefits. The person who would refute all benefit of exercise in treating depression would be no different than the zealot who refuses to acknowledge medical science.

There are numerous studies confirming the benefits of exercise in treating depression although I’m not going to reference a single one in this article.

The reason is because I can attest to the benefit of exercise in treating depression from personal experience.

My personal experience using exercise to treat depression

Almost ten years ago when I first moved down to Charleston, I went through an extremely traumatic event with losing someone who was very close to me through a suicide attempt.

To say that I hit rock bottom would be an understatement. I was completely crushed on all levels, mentally, physically, emotionally. No, I take that back, on all levels except for one- spiritual. It would be through faith, a loving family and close friends that I would be able to pull myself through.

An interesting thing happened to me during the “walk” that all people have to take when recovering from a traumatic event . When I first went to see a counselor I was immediately told I should be taking depression medication due to the severity of events I’d been through. I refused and walked right out of the office to go find another counselor.

I wasn’t going to meet with anyone who wasn’t open to my intention of using therapy in combination with exercise and other “medication free” means of treatment (at least to give it a try first).

I found that individual from a friend’s referral and started working diligently on getting better. At first I could barely find the strength or the motivation to walk on the treadmill for even 5 minutes. And this was pretty devastating as I was in exceptional shape just weeks before.

I went from being able to bench press over 400 lbs to someone who could barely find the strength to put his warm-up pants on to go to the gym. Talk about a humbling experience.

But here’s the thing. I told myself, “Look Shane you have to start SOMEWHERE.” I made a goal to just do 5 minutes on the treadmill, 10 push-up’s, and 10 sit-up’s. After three workouts I would simply raise the bar and try to do a little more while setting new goals each time.

Then everything started changing…

Before you knew it I was up to a jog for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and so forth. Within 30 days I was running for 20 minutes and doing 100 push-up’s and sit-up’s each workout. It was nothing short of amazing to me how I could go from being so weak I could barely get out of bed to feeling strong again.

What was even more amazing to me looking back on it now is how my recovery mentally and emotionally seemed to get better as I improved physically. It was like you could draw this linear correlation. The most noticeable changes came when I started doing more higher-intensity, short-duration “burst training” type workouts.

Exercise and the effects on endorphins and chemical balances

I know now it’s because these workouts have the most pronounced effect on endorphins and other hormonal balances. What was happening is I was changing the chemical balances in my body and mind through exercise.

Now, one thing I think gets left out is the connection between diet and sleep as well. It wasn’t just the exercise that improved but also my levels of sleep and quality of diet. Whenever something stressful occurs the first things to go are sleep and diet, this is typical in most anyone I know.

I think it’s more than just exercise but the synergistic combination of all three (exercise, diet, and sleep) that are responsible for helping to overcome depression naturally.

It all comes down to a body in “balance.”

In a nutshell, you’re giving your body the tools it needs to heal itself on all levels by getting back in balance. I can’t stress that word enough “balance.” I really think it all comes down to that word.

There will be some cases where “balance” will only be achieved with the assistance of some sort of medication and I get that. I just wish more people would look at balance in all areas of their life before jumping on some pill just because some guy in a white coat said it would be best.

If you’re suffering from depression certainly get professional help but don’t ever neglect the benefits of exercise, diet, proper rest, and a body in balance.

For me I was convinced on trying that first because I had no real history of depression. I knew one thing was for certain, it wouldn’t hurt. I figured if I didn’t get better I could always fall back on the medication as a plan B, but there was no way I wasn’t going to try and heal myself naturally.

Note to all the guys…

On a final note, I can’t emphasize enough how much counseling and therapy helped me in my recovery. I know some men laugh at the whole idea of psychiatry and think it’s a sign of weakness to say you need help. This is bunch of crap.

In my opinion, a real man will realize when he needs helps and won’t be so foolish or proud to not accept it. I have to admit there was probably a time in my life when I thought this way. But when you’re taken to your knees, you’re much more open to accepting help.

Having “taken the walk,” I can tell you that it was certainly one of the best decisions I made. Ultimately it probably played a big role in the end outcome. I could have easily fell into alcoholism, drug addiction, or drifted off the grid like so many people unfortunately do. If you have an addiction check out these detox of south florida.

Crossroads and turning points…

There are turning points, crossroads, or whatever you want to call it in everyone’s life. This was one of those big ones for me. I’ve come out of the other side with more empathy for people suffering from depression and a burning desire to spread the message of hope.

When it’s the darkest and you’re at the lowest point it’s hard to see the other side. It’s not a matter of toughness, weakness or anything like that. We’re talking about chemical imbalances going in within the brain. Hard to explain unless you’ve been there. If you have you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The importance of having HOPE and fighting for your own wellness…

I just want to say, no scream at the top of my lungs….there is HOPE! Don’t you ever, ever, ever give up! If you ever want someone to talk to I’m here as a friend.

On the exercise side, obviously you know I’m very passionate about that. You may not have known all the reasons why until reading this post.

Exercise is not just something you do to get in shape or lose a few pounds. To me it’s about something much more important…it’s about helping you achieve BALANCE in your life.

At the end of the day it’s all going to come down to this word. When you’re out of balance (on any level) your body and mind won’t be whole. Maybe it’s depression, a weight issue, arthritis, you can fill in the blanks.

A body out of balance is a body that will express the problem in some way- mentally or physically. Don’t neglect exercise and a healthy diet. If you need help making a lifestyle change that’s what I’m here for. It’s what we do everyday at Shaping Concepts.

When you could use a helping hand…

Maybe you just need a little help, encouragement, and direction getting back on track. Doesn’t matter where you’re at, if you’re not living a life of balance let’s talk.

Those who know me will tell you I won’t try and push anything on you. I just want to help and if that means we get you on the right track through some recommendations and a few words of encouragement then so be it. I know that by looking to serve and help others, business will naturally come.

I’d love to hear your comments below if you enjoyed reading this post, found it encouraging, or there’s anything you’d like to add.

Be blessed. Talk to you soon- Shane

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts, a Charleston personal fitness training studio that specializes in weight loss and body transformation. You can receive a FREE, no-obligations (2) session personal training trial and consultation to experience the difference for yourself.

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Category: Shane's Commentary.