Exercise to BeHappy!

Depressed? Take a Hike

By Liz Austin

Just 30 minutes of brisk walking can immediately boost the mood of depressed patients, giving them the same quick pick-me-up they may be seeking from cigarettes, caffeine or binge eating, a small study found. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that people suffering from depression who walked on a treadmill for 30 minutes reported feeling more vigorous and had a greater sense of psychological well-being for up to an hour after completing the workout. Those patients and another group that sat quietly for 30 minutes both reported reductions in negative feelings such as tension, depression, anger and fatigue. But only the group that exercised said they felt good after the session, according to the study, published in the December issue of the journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Lead researcher John Bartholomew said the study reinforces past research that has found consistent exercise, along with medication and counseling, can help people overcome depression. However, Bartholomew's is among the first to show that exercise can have a positive effect right away. "It's not something you have to do for 10 weeks and it's not something you have to do at a high intensity,'' said Bartholomew, an associate professor of kinesiology and health education. “You should derive a benefit very early on in the process, and hopefully that is the kind of thing that will motivate them to continue to engage in the behavior.'' The study, funded by Future Search Trials, an Austin medical research company, involved 40 people between the ages of 18 and 55. All were recently diagnosed with major depressive disorder, were not taking antidepressants and did not regularly exercise. Twenty patients were assigned to exercise for 30 minutes, while the others sat quietly for the same amount of time. They were surveyed five minutes before the session and five, 30 and 60 minutes afterward. The positive mood effects from walking were sizable, lifting their feelings of vigor to near-normal levels, the study said. But the results were short-lived, returning to pre-exercise levels within an hour. While the study shows depressed people who self-medicate with cigarettes, caffeine or food binges could get similar positive feelings from exercising, experts said it won't be easy to persuade them to replace bad habits with walking or shooting hoops. It's hard enough to get healthy adults to exercise. "For people who are severely depressed, that may not be something I'm really going to hang my hat on,'' said Dr. Erik Nelson, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. But for mildly to moderately depressed patients, exercise may lessen feelings of helplessness and isolation, he said. "People shouldn't feel like the only thing they can do is take their medicine and wait till they feel better,” Nelson said. "This kind of shows there are things you can do to help yourself in the short term.”

The Most Important Exercise Tip

By Robin Lloyd

They lack six-pack abs. They could lose a few. Yet they're happy, body and soul. How are such people possible in body-centric America? They exercise. They work out. It's part of their routine. Maybe not as often as they would like or think they should, but they do something. Sure there are the long-term benefits like lowering your blood pressure, improved strength and endurance, a trimmer physique and the confidence that follows, increasing mental alertness, and reducing your odds of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. But exercise simply makes you feel good. It is no sure-fire happy pill, and some say it has to be intense, or anaerobic (involving short energy bursts that cause the body to run out temporarily of oxygen), to bring on the psychological boost, but it is a part of the feel-good equation, experts say. The problem with the perfect workout Many Americans forget or ignore both the short- and long-term benefits and avoid exercise due to a sedentary lifestyle, allowing a "perfect" workout to be the enemy of one that is "good enough," and boredom due to repeating the same exercise routine over and over, says Debbie Mandel, author of "Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul" (Busy Bee Group, 2003). Two primary chemicals involved in making exercise feel good are cortisol and endorphins. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the body under stress, such as anger, anxiety or fear, and it ultimately inflames and damages our organs. Exercise burns cortisol, and thereby makes us healthier and happier, Mandel says. Endorphins are morphine-like hormone molecules that enter the brain's neurons and park on receptors that normally send pain-signaling molecules back to other parts of the brain. Some say endorphins are even more powerful and yield a more euphoric feeling than opiate drugs such as morphine and opium, which park on the same receptors when introduced to the body. Exercise stimulates the brain's pituitary gland to release endorphins, an abbreviation for endogenous (meaning "produced within") morphine, in the bloodstream. Get started Even with a stagnant gym membership or so-so discipline, individual episodes of intense exercise provides psychological boosts aside from the harder-to-see, harder-to-acquire physical and disease-fighting benefits of exercise. A single exercise session lasting 20 or 30 minutes at 80 percent of your capacity brings on pain-relieving endorphins, according to work by Robert G. McMurray of the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mandel agrees that even one session makes you feel better and clears your head. "Once you make a commitment to exercise then you are motivated to keep feeling good every day. After about two weeks of exercise you stay on course," she said in a recent email interview. Mandel says you can ensure a psychological reward if you tailor your workout level to your stress level. "If you are highly stressed, you need to do a more intense workout which means longer than 30 minutes; if you are less stressed, then 30 minutes should suffice," she says. Heavy lifting Some scientists say the feel-good benefits vary with the type of exercise. Research by Ed Pierce, now at Bridgewater College, and his colleagues shows that moderate exercise and light weightlifting or other resistance training, while critical for overall health, fail to bring on endorphins. Alan Goldfarb of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro also says endorphins are only associated with heavy weightlifting or any kind of exercise during which you sprint (such as during running, biking, swimming). Some experts say that tolerance to endorphins increases over time, but Mandel also says this varies with the person. "Mostly, you get a consistent high from a workout to music and a workout that you enjoy," she says. "It is important to realize that routine deadens the heart, and you have to change up your exercise regimen. The body always adapts and you need to challenge it. So, vary the intensity, cross train, take dance classes, try a new sport, use a personal trainer for a few sessions, etc. Keep it fresh, and you will get that high!”

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