Diet and exercise, the exercise part

I’ve been thinking about exercise and staying fit.  It’s one of the remedies that is cited when a person has some kind of systemic dis-ease but most people don’t do enough.

One of my frog friends hanging on to a rhododendron in my old BC backyard

One of my frog friends hanging on to a rhododendron in my old BC backyard

I’ve always been active.  We used to jump over obstacles in my back yard like lawn  furniture and a 50 gallon barrel, climb trees and bike all over town, catching amphibians.  I  liked best the jobs that kept me active.  I ran all day as a housekeeper in the Plymouth Nursing Home cleaning two floors and seven bathrooms.  I ate three huge sandwiches in those days to fuel myself.  Cooking on a sea scallop boat was always a workout and even the tools were heavy in landscape construction.

You’d think that once I started working on buses that would be the end of my active lifestyle, but I always sat on the edge of my seat, fidgeting, and at every stop I would sprint in to make sure the venue was ready for the group and sprint back to minimize the wait for the clients.  I hiked every chance I got in Banff and Jasper and swam in Vancouver.  In cities I always walk faster, sometimes so fast I walk right by a place I want.  Oops.

On the trail in the woods near Cumberland, BC with Jasper, aged 11.  Our daily routine.

On the trail in the woods near Cumberland, BC with Jasper, aged 11. Our daily routine. (2005)

For the past twenty years I’ve had a large dog buddy and that has me walking 3 to 5 miles a day no matter the weather.  On the odd day that I miss  the walk I  feel the lack.  I am nervous and edgy, out of sorts.  Mostly, every day we walk first thing down the road and  longer in the afternoon.  I will say that the morning ‘walk’ can be very slow and involves some sitting ( on Murphy’s part) in the road, contemplating the universe (I assume) but it’s a good way for me to wake up.

Early morning walk before the plow has been by

Early morning walk before the plow has been by

This summer I have been house painting.   One window and wall required both of my extension ladders and I was lugging and using my sander, caulk gun and vacuum cleaner up those ladders.  Some might not think that is so bad but I’m a small person with tiny hands and wrists so using all those tools 18 foot up a ladder is a workout.  Now that cooler weather has arrived I’m moving firewood again.  Today I chucked a cord of wood into the truck, in four loads, and re-stacked it in the garage.  Lucky me, I can find enough in my daily life to give me plenty of exercise.  I find the more active I am, the more active I can be  and the better I feel.

Shortly after 9/11, the tour company I worked for required the tour directors to get emergency contact information for all the clients.  The form we handed out had a  place for medications that I glanced at in case anyone might have a medical condition of which I needed to be aware.  In one particular group there was a drug, Zoloft, that nearly 70% of the clients listed.  I had never heard of it so I looked it up to discover that it was an SSRI used to treat anxiety and depression.  These people were mostly retired, often with two homes so that they did not have to endure winter, and they had enough money to take expensive trips several times a year.  What did they have to be anxious about?  Well, in retrospect, I guess they could have been anticipating the mortgage fiasco and economic mess the country was headed for.  Still, the meds seemed unnecessary.

I recently read  that the SSRIs commonly used to treat depression create the same effect as if that person had just exercised.  An article in Harvard Health Publications on Exercise and Depression cites a study that compared results for three groups, one that exercised, one that took an SSRI, and one that did both that found that all participants felt better but those that exercised and continued to exercise could no longer be called depressed and stayed in that better place.

I know that for me, with a lifetime of being active, this all comes easier.  I wonder if my general good spirits is a result of ongoing activity.  I have had periods of depression but I’ve always seen depression as a useful tool, an indication that something wasn’t working for me thus time to make changes.  It also helps to have a reason to exercise.  A dog does not ken a bad day, in fact, dogs that are badly behaved most likely do not get enough regular exercise.  And the really cool thing is that just walking is enough.  You don’t have to go to a gym and sweat around fitness freaks.  A daily brisk walk is really all the doctor should order for most maladies.

One last suggestion…… take a walk but leave the phone, and maybe the tunes, at home.  There’s a lot of the world that is missed when the mind is focussed elsewhere, the songs of birds, drops of water on rose-hips, the first dusting of snow on dried hydrangeas.   There’s a lot to notice and appreciate and your heart, lungs, and head will thank you for it.

My neighbour's  hydrangeas under the first dusting of snow

My neighbour’s hydrangeas under the first dusting of snow

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3 responses to “Diet and exercise, the exercise part

  1. Pingback: Light in the Darkness: Mental Health Monday | A Way With Words

  2. Excellent words of wisdom. While I don’t think exercise alone can remedy severe depression, it no doubt enhances mood and is an essential part of a recovery program. Great post.

    • Thank you for your kind and considered words. You are right; exercise isn’t the whole answer, but I think it’s an accessible element that is not always employed as part of the remedy. It seems easier to take a pill rather than be proactive. I guess depression and proactive rarely coexist, alas.

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