Depression Archives

The #1 Medicine For Improving Pretty Much Everything About Your Health

Imagine you could lose weight… have control over your anxiety and depression… prevent dementia and other debilitating side effects of aging… improve your brain power at any age… all without taking meds or making trips to the doctor.

Well, you can, says John J. Ratey, M. D., author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

Yep, you guessed it. Exercise is the best medicine.

If an inexpensive pill came out on the market that could do all that, with no negative side effects, we’d probably be all over it.

But the word “exercise” can tend to make one recoil. It’s work, after all.

I spent most of my adults years thinking exercise was good for cardiovascular health, maybe losing a few pounds or at least preventing future weight gain, replacing fat with muscle, and that’s about it.

As it turns out, those are probably the least of the reasons you should exercise.

The Mind-Body Connection

Dr. Ratey says “exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function.” This is based on hundreds and hundreds of research papers published within the last decade.

He has chapters devoted to how exercise helps with learning, stress, anxiety, depression, ADD, addiction, hormonal changes, and aging. I’ll focus on just three of these in this post.

Anxiety: Nothing To Panic About

A group of cardiologists took psychiatrists to task in a 2004 New England Journal of Medicine article for failing to note that exercise is an additional means of treating anxiety.

These doctors said: “Exercise training has been shown to lead to reductions of more than 50 percent in the the prevalence of the symptoms of anxiety.”

Dr. Ratey says there’s nothing wrong with taking medicine, but if you can achieve the same effects through exercise, you build confidence in your own ability to cope.  “Teaching the brain that we can survive is crucial to overcoming anxiety.”

Depression: Move Your Mood

A landmark study in 1999 at Duke University found that exercise worked even better than medicine over the long term.

Dr. Ratey says:

Unlike many anti-depressants, exercise doesn’t selectively influence anything – it adjusts the chemistry of the entire brain to restore normal signalling.

It frees up the prefrontal cortex so we can remember the good things and break out of the pessimistic patterns of depression. It also serves as proof that we can take the initiative to change something.

Aging The Wise Way

Getting old is unavoidable, but falling apart is not. Exercise is one of the few ways to counter the process of aging. According to Dr. Ratey:

The major implication is that exercise not only keeps the brain from rotting, but it also reverses the cell deterioration associated with aging.

Here’s how exercise helps keep you going when you’re old:

1. It strengthens the cardiovascular system.

2. It regulates fuel (keeps glucose levels from skyrocketing).

3. It reduces obesity.

4. It elevates your stress threshold (i.e. combats the effects of too much cortisol, which brings on depression and dementia).

5. It lifts your mood.

6. It boosts the immune system.

7. It fortifies your bones. Did you know more women die every year from hip fractures than from breast cancer? Eek.

8. It boosts motivation by increasing dopamine, which in turn guards against Parkinson’s.

9. It fosters neuroplasticity, which improves your brain’s ability to learn, remember and execute higher thought processes.

Mental exercise is just as important for the elderly. Dr. Ratey mentions an ongoing study of several hundred nuns over the years in Mankato, MN. These nuns challenge their minds constantly with mental puzzles, public debates about issues, keep teaching long past retirement age, etc. Many of them live to be one hundred or more. They all donate their brains to science after they die. Here’s what Dr. Ratey says about one of the nuns:

The interesting thing about Sister Bernadette is that she scored in the 90th percentile on cognitive tests right up until she died, but when her brain was examined postmortem, it showed massive damage from Alzheimer’s disease… In other words, she should have been utterly lost to the ravages of dementia. Yet despite the damage in her brain, she remained mentally sharp.

So what types of exercises are the best medicine according to all these studies? I’ll write a post about that soon. In the meantime, feel free to read the whole book and find out.

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My favorite definition of neurosis

Image and video hosting by TinyPicA neurosis is wherever we are allied against our true nature.” – James Hollis

A more roundabout way of saying it is: “some profound energy or value has been repressed, pathologized, and is now reasserting its will upon us. Whenever we force ourselves to do what is against our nature’s intent, we will suffer anxiety attacks, depressions, or addictions to anesthetize the pain of this inner dislocation.” – James Hollis

Other neurosis definitions:

“Neurosis is the flight from authentic suffering.” – Jung

“Neurosis is symptomatic of a reduced vision of life, a worldview of insufficient amplitude.” – James Hollis

“A neurosis is often a rebellion of an unconscious psyche against forces which it perceives as threatening to its specific nature.”  – June Singer

Jung said our neuroses are forms of suffering that have not yet found their meaning.

“Is not our chief neurosis – by which I mean our estrangement from nature – our desire to hold fast to what is forever transforming, to freeze the familiar, to submit motion to stasis, to solicit immortality through rigidity.” – James Hollis

Don’t forget to rock your neurosis.

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Anxiety is an elixir

Yeah, I did a double take when I first read that too.

I just discovered the author James Hollis, Ph.D. He is director of the Jungian Studies program at Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco and I’m reading his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up.

It has never occurred to me to think that anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing but here’s what Hollis says:

The daily confrontation with these gremlins of fear and lethargy obliges us to choose between anxiety and depression, for each is aroused by the dilemma of daily choice.

Anxiety will be our companion if we risk the next stage of our journey, and depression our companion if we do not…

Not to consciously choose a path guarantees that our psyche will choose for us, and depression or illness of one or another will result.

Yet to move into unfamiliar territory activates anxiety as our constant comrade.

Clearly, psychological or spiritual development always requires a greater capacity in us for the toleration of anxiety and ambiguity.

The capacity to accept this troubled state, abide it, and commit to life, is the moral measure of our maturity.

He goes on to say we should choose anxiety over depression:

Faced with such a choice, choose anxiety and ambiguity, for they are developmental, always, while depression is regressive.

Anxiety is an elixir, and depression a sedative. The former keeps us on the edge of our life, and the latter in the sleep of childhood.

Well then.

As an entrepreneur, I face anxiety and inner feelings of resistance almost every day because, believe it or not, it can be terrifying at times not having a boss telling you what to do.

As a parent I struggle with anxiety too, with the What If Something Bad Happens To My Kids character hogging up most of the space in my closet of anxieties.

But maybe, as Hollis says, anxiety isn’t such a bad thing after all. Hmmm.

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Dignified concealment is overrated

I like these 19 tips if you’re depressed, which are from a 19th century poet.

I especially like the advice in tip #11: “Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.”

Dignified concealment. That ranks up there with cognitive surplus as one of my new favorite phrases.

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