The Mood/Muscle Connection

The Mood/Muscle Connection

Eston Dunn Special For eFitness

Regular physical activity plays an important role in overall psychological health. For nearly two decades, thousands of businesses have developed employee fitness centres and programmes or incentives to improve work-related behaviours. Decreased absenteeism, increased job satisfaction, employee retention, decreased stress and reduced healthcare costs all have been associated with employee physical activity programmes.

Across a wide variety of medical populations, from cardiac patients to new mums, exercise has been shown to improve mood, self-esteem and general well-being. Similarly, exercise often is considered an effective component for comprehensive treatment of several psychological disorders.

Depression is the most common of mood disorders.

It's estimated that 10-25% of women and 5-12% of men suffer from depression at some time during their lives. Clinical depression is characterised by a period (at least two weeks) of depressed mood or loss of interest in most activities that the person formerly enjoyed. All areas of the individual’s life are affected, including their performance at work and interaction in social settings and with family.

People experiencing clinical depression feel sad, hopeless, discouraged or "down in the dumps." Often, they report that they just don’t care about anything anymore. In some cases, individuals who are clinically depressed report feeling more irritable than sad.

This disorder involves changes in neurotransmitter levels (chemical messengers used by the nervous system to communicate and control many bodily functions) and hence, affects many systems of the body. Several medical conditions also may result in depressed mood or symptoms of anxiety. Such medical conditions associated with depression include endocrine disorders (e.g. hyper/hypothyroidism), autoimmune disorders (e.g. lupus, rheumatoid arthritis), infections (e.g. hepatitis, mononucleosis, HIV Disease, AIDS) and certain cancers.

Medications (anti-hypertensive, cardiac agents, hormone therapy and oral contraceptives, among others) also can induce depression.

Depression is associated with changes in the way someone functions, thinks and feels about him or herself. Functional changes include increases or decreases in appetite (with resultant change in weight), sleep disturbance (trouble falling asleep, remaining asleep and/or waking too early), lack of energy and psychomotor activity (agitation such as pacing, hand-wringing and difficulty sitting still, or retardation such as slowed speech, thinking and/or body movements).

Cognitive changes include trouble concentrating and difficulty making decisions, as well as feeling hopeless about the future. Depressed people report feeling worthless and guilty and they often have recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. They are frequently tearful, especially when discussing how they feel.

Feelings can range from mild (significant distress and some impairment in functioning) to severe (inability to function at work or with others). Symptoms of depression often develop slowly over a period of weeks or months.

When left untreated, major depression can last six months or more and some symptoms linger for longer periods. It's likely that the majority of sufferers do not seek help, which is especially worrisome since up to 15% of all depressed people will eventually attempt suicide.

Exercise has been shown to be effective in treating depression when combined with psychotherapy and medication. Immediately after exercising, mood and well-being are improved. A growing body of empirical research also suggests that exercise has long-term effects. Though more research is warranted to confirm these findings, preliminary studies suggest that moderate-intensity lifestyle exercise, such as walking, is as effective as traditional vigorous aerobic exercise in improving mood.

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