Outrunning depression

Here’s another reason to get your couch potato teenager away from the computer and out playing sports. According to a recent study, lack of physical fitness at age 18 is associated with an increased risk of serious depression later in life.

We’ve all heard of “runner’s high”–the endorphin rush you get from physical exercise. And I must admit my moods have been better since I took a serious interest in physical activity. But this study took those long-time casual observations a step further.

Researches clearly linked lower cardiovascular fitness with increased risk of serious depression. They also looked at the effect that physical exercise had on people already diagnosed with depression. And they noted a distinct improvement in mood and cognition.

Could this be why we are a nation on Prozac?

Unfortunately, if the obesity epidemic continues to spiral out of control, things will only get worse. It’s a vicious cycle. The fatter we become, the less exercise we do. And the more depressed we get about being overweight. So what happens? People take antidepressants. And guess what antidepressants do? Make you gain weight.

So perhaps we just need to get out and exercise more…instead of popping these so-called “happy pills.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…I didn’t always love to exercise. In fact, it was a major struggle for me until just a couple of years ago. I always did something. But my heart was never in it. And if there was any excuse not to, I was out of there. But, in the past two years, it has meant something to me. And now it affects every aspect of my life, including how I work with patients. This study gives me even more to share with my teenage patients–and their parents.

The simple fact is, the brain needs two types of training. Cognitive, which kids get in the classroom. And physical, which means exercise. Unfortunately, we can’t count on them getting the physical exercise their brains need at school. Many districts across the country are cutting physical education programs in an effort to reduce costs.

Once again, it’s up to parents to set a good example for their kids. And to make getting healthy–through nutritious diet AND physical activity–a priority for the whole family.