Exercise: The Great Anti­Depressant.

With the Colorado Rockies’ miracle run to make the post season and performing so well in this year’s baseball playoffs, I felt compelled to write on sports and the positive benefits they provide for people. What an inspiration it is to see a team of humble, hard­ working, exuberant people bonding together and performing at such a high level and doing so as such big underdogs. It is a historic story in baseball and an amazing story of success in any area.

Playing sports carries the obvious benefit of exercise. Exercise is one of the purest and strongest anti­anxiety and anti­depressant agents that exist.    Not only are sports fun, but they provide for social networks, improved metabolism and chemical balance in the body and sense of accomplishment. For purposes of this article I will include any physical activity under the scope of sports, from playing basketball to gardening to a brisk hike in the mountains or even the mall.

Studies have shown that physical activity benefits the mood and helps with anxiety. As little as 30 minutes a day of physical activity, three to five times per week, helps to balance chemicals in the brain called “neurotransmitters”. The leading theory behind depression and anxiety disorders is that there is a biologic imbalance in these neurotransmitters.    Exercise and physical activity also stimulates the natural release of endorphins. These are chemicals the body natural produces that provides a sense of well­ being.

Physical activity also helps to prevent common and debilitating medical problems including obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. People who suffer from chronic medical conditions tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety, as well as lower quality of life. Additionally, I am a believer in the mind­body connection. In other words, the way you feel mentally will affect your physical well being and visa versa. People who engage in regular physical activity do have better overall health and sense of well being than people who are sedentary.    The brain, after all, is connected to the rest of the body.

Sports or other activities also provide the opportunity for socialization. “Socialization is the process by which people become familiar with and adapt themselves to the interpersonal relationships of their social work. Through socialization, people develop ideas about themselves and those whom they interact.” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2007).  Human beings are social animals by nature and good socialization as a child is crucial in normal social development. Children with poor social skills or socialization struggle more in school and with peers and are at greater risk for conduct problems, substance use problems and depressive/anxious disorders. Physical activity also distracts people from feeling depressed and anxious. By shifting focus from feeling bad, people tend to start to feel better over the long­term, are more social and interactive, which helps prevent depression and anxiety.

The beauty of staying physically active is that there are infinite ways to do it. Sports are not the only way to stay physically active. You can be creative and find any number of activities. The key to this is to explore the things you and/or your children enjoy doing. Set reasonable goals as you engage in activity and realize that there may be barriers or setbacks at times. It is important to problem solve with friends or family, or your medical provider around this.

When you watch a team like the Rockies, they look like they are having so much fun. Sure we may not get paid handsomely to be physically active like that, but the long­term rewards of physical activity are priceless.

What are you doing sitting there still reading this? Get out there and start having fun and feeling better!!

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