Individual, Marital & Family Counseling & Mediation

DRB Alternatives, Inc.
Individual, Marital & Family Counseling & Mediation

Exercise,Counseling and Depression:
The Mind/Body Connection

By Donna Bellafiore, LCSW
Katharine Huss, Fitness Consultant

According to recent statistics, depression is on the rise. It is estimated that over 17 milllion people in the United States suffer some level of depression. It is one of the most common mental health diagnoses and costs American businesses almost $23.8 billion in lost productivity annually.

The good news is that 80 percent of diagnosed cases can be treated successfully. Also, companies are becoming increasingly aware that depression affects production, home life, relationships, and interactions with peers. Corporations are demonstrating their concern for employees by offering educational programs that deal with this critical health issue. Businessses are also offering short-term counseling through employee assistance programs.

This is important, because early diagnosis and intervention benefit both individuals and their employers. When not treated in its early stages, depression often leads to clincial depression which can completely immobilize a person's social and occupational functioning.

Research indicates that a combination of counseling and exercise can reduce depressive symptoms and accelerate the process of healing. While the benefits of counseling have long been understood, attention is now being given to the positive effect of exercise as well. These include mood elevation, increased metabolism, higher energy levels, decreased stress, reduced blood pressure, and lowered cholesterol levels.

Even people who have been hospitalized for severe clinical depression have improved with such treatment. In an article that appeared in the September 1995 issue of The Physician and Sports Medicine, doctors from St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Universtiy of of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor reported psychological benefits of a counseling and fitness regimen for mildly and moderately depressed clients. The doctors recommended that physcians prescribe exercise, psychotherapy, and/or medication for clients who suffer these levels of depression.

In a recent experiment in our office, we observed similar positive effects of exercise on a clinically depressed client. Significant mood elevation occurred after one hour of moderate aerobic exercise, strength training, and muscle conditioning. The positive effect lasted for four hours.

Several factors combine to provide relief to depressed clients who exercise. Increased blood flow delivers more oxygen to the blood cells, releasing natural endorphins which are linked to mood enhancement. This increased mood elevation helps build self-confidence.

The combination of counseling and personal fitness programming is a comprehensive approach for certain types of depression and life-style management. Counseling provides a mechanism for venting feelings and reducing thoughts that deplete energy. New skills learned in counseling are used for the handling of stressful situations that occur daily. These skills give a person new perspectives and a fresh way of looking at situations. They offer an often powerful way of regaining control over one's life. Today people recognize that counseling is a life-style management tool, rather than a crutch for people who are incapable of dealing with life.

A personal fitness program helps to increase energy levels by altering body chemistry. This, in turn, may eliminate the need for psychotropic medication, although the severity of depression and the need for medication must be monitored carefully by the mental health practitioner. A fitness program also provides a positive form of stress on the body while relieving the negative stress of day-to-day living. Exercise helps divert, distract, and calm individuals, allowing the mind to rest and regroup.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends several workout guidelines. (We caution anyone starting an exercise program or taking psychotropic medication to obtain their physician's approval before beginning an exercise regimen.)

    1. Frequency of training: three to five time per week
    2. Intensity of training: 60 to 85 percent of maximal heart rate
    3. Duration of training: 20 to 60 minutes of continual aerobic activity
    4. Mode of activity: any activity using large muscle groups that can be maintained continously and rhythmically and is aerobic in nature, such as speed walking, jogging, aerobics, hiking, bicycling, rowing, cross-country skiing, and many other fun activities
    5. Resistance traininng: strength training of moderate intensity, sufficient to develop and maintain a lean body, at least two days per week

It is critical for businesses and insurance companies to support preventive strategies that deal with depression. Counseling services need to be an accessible, important option before problems reach levels that are too complex and difficult to deal with effectively.

Keeping employees mentally healthy is just good business!

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