Depression: Exercise as a Treatment Option

by Kaitelynn T.

Depression is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses in Canada. Through a community survey the Public Health Agency of Canada determined that 11.3% of adults living in Canada identified symptoms that meet the criteria for depression. With such a high rate of the population being affected researchers have become increasingly interested in finding new and alternative treatments to treat or assist in treating the symptoms of depression. One of the new ways to treat depression that researchers are exploring is exercise.

Although never diagnosed with depression, I along with everyone else, have experienced a range of high and low days. Once I started university I found that the lows were becoming more frequent. In high school I always had a sport to play and therefore exercised on a daily basis. However, once in university I had little to no exercise and didn’t participate in intramural sports. About halfway through my first year I decided to try going for a run and found an immediate improvement in my mood. It became a habit to go for a run a couple times a week and I found that the lows were not so frequent anymore. Even on my bad days going for a run was a way to focus solely on breathing and moving my legs. Looking back on this I decided to look into what research had been done on the topic of exercise as a treatment option for depression. I found many articles where the data indicated that exercise did indeed have a positive effect on the symptoms of depression.

The first article I examined was, Exercise as a Treatment Option for Depression: A Meta-analysis Adjusting for Publication Bias, by Schuch et al. This article states that “Our data strongly support the claim that that exercise is an evidence based treatment for depression”. This article does specify that some types of exercise are more effective than other. For example it found that moderate aerobic activities led by a professional appeared to have a larger positive impact on individuals than other types of self-led exercise. Another article I looked at was, Exercise as a Treatment for Depression in Elders, by Carol Palmer. This study reports “Increasing physical activity markedly reduces depressive symptoms and is a safe adjunct or alternative to medication therapy”. This study goes on to state that “Physical activity should be recommended to patients of all ages”. These studies show that exercise can greatly reduce depressive symptoms and creates an alternative treatment option for those struggling with depression. It is important for people to try a range of treatments in order to find an option that is best suited for the individual. As stated by Palmer exercise can be used along with other treatments for depression.

The point of this blog is not to tell people that exercise will cure your depression or that people on medication for depression should stop taking it and simply exercise. The point of this blog is to help make people aware that exercise has a huge impact on our mental wellness and should be reinforced as an important part of staying healthy not just physically but mentally as well.

References

Pearson, Caryn, Teresa Janz and Jennifer Ali. 2013. “Mental and substance use disorders in Canada” Health at a Glance. September. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 82-624-X.

Schuch, F. B., Vancampfort, D., Richards, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P. B., & Stubbs, B. (June 01, 2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 77, 42-51.

Palmer, C. (February 01, 2005). Exercise as a treatment for depression in elders. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 17, 2, 60-66.

 

A Man’s Territory: The Gym

By Jessica D.

By now, many know the health benefits associated with being physically active: avoiding heart disease, depression, obesity, diabetes, and the list goes on. Exercise participation and barriers to physical activity have been widely researched for many decades. Some of the most commonly reported barriers to physical activity include lack of time, lack of enjoyment, lack of social support and lack of past exercise behavior (Trost et al., 2002). However, are we neglecting the fact that intimidation exhibited by male counterparts in a gym environment may account for a large quota of female dropout in physical activity?

The Health Survey for England (Health and Social Care Information Centre, 2011) reported that only 29% of the UK women were achieving recommended levels of physical activity compared to 39% of males. In a study done by Pridgeon and Grogan (2012) whom observed exercise adherence and dropout, all non-adheres were conscious of the presence of others while exercising at the gym. Moreover, when it comes to the way girls dress or the weight they are going to add while doing their bench press at the gym, the presence of males plays a highly influential role.

Traditional public perceptions of a male are expected to be strong, independent, and athletic, whereas females are deemed to be the “weaker sex”. When these gender norms are violated either at the gym or in a sport context, it is common for labels to be given (i.e. “she must be a lesbian”). For this reason, females are left feeling vulnerable in a gym setting, thus, discouraging them from pushing themselves to become in great physical condition, and to most certainly not exceed the condition of their male counterparts.

Although I am no stranger to the gym, the thought of working out next to sweaty guys huffing, puffing, and grunting as they try to bench press hundreds of pounds always makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Take the weight room at the Currie Centre, for example. It has become the norm for women to breeze past the room simply because of the male dominated environment that has been created. For many years, I did the exact same thing myself. I felt as though the glares and stares I was receiving while lifting, at times, as much weight as some of the men in the room were making me feel as though I did not belong in that space. However, being a fitness enthusiast, and being well aware of the health benefits associated with adhering to a weight-training program, I did not let the intimidation of male bodies in the room drive me away. I really enjoyed this post “8 Reasons Why You Should Lift Heavier Weights” : number 7 which caught my eye in particular, mentions how “you’ll feel empowered” and that lifting weights is associated with a boost in self-esteem.

While both men and women work out in contemporary gyms, popular conceptions of the gym as a masculine institution continue. That being said, many alternatives need to be considered for women who do not adhere to gym participation as the result of male intimidation. Women-only gyms, exercising partners, and comfortable clothing, to name a few, are good examples of ways to boost a women’s self-esteem and self-efficacy while at the gym. In the end, shouldn’t we be working towards creating a more accepting gym environment? Don’t women have every right to flaunt their muscly arms and toned legs too?

References

Trost, S.G., et al., 2002. Correlates of adults’ participation in physical activity: review and update. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 34 (12), 1996–2001. doi: 10.1097/ 00005768–200212000–00020.

Health and Social Care Information Centre 2011. Health Survey for England – 2008: physical activity and fitness. Available from: http://www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/hse08physicalactivity [Accessed January 2011].

Pridgeon, L., & Grogan, S. (2012). Understanding exercise adherence and dropout: an interpretative phenomenological analysis of men and women’s accounts of gym attendance and non-attendance. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 4(3), 382-399.