CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I mostly receive questions electronically. Sometimes I'm stopped in a grocery store, the fitness center or in a parking lot and asked for advice on fitness, training or my opinion on the latest diet. Today, I address a question that came to me in a kind handshake.
Finishing my weekly strength training class for seniors, I got up and moved toward the door. More than 40 older adults tended to the after-class ritual of putting their equipment back inside the storage closet. A gentleman, new to our class, approached me with an emotionless face, and I greeted him with a smile. I asked if he enjoyed the class and he didn't answer. Instead, he tucked a scrap of paper into my hand and walked away. He had written, "What advice do you have for a broken heart?"
Since that day, I have looked for him to return to class, but he hasn't been back. I have thought about how many people his question represented. They say if one person poses a question, there are lots of others who want to know the answer. So I hope he and others who are dealing with loneliness, stress, depression, anxiety and broken hearts will read my column today.
There are numerous events that leave us feeling lost. We lose a loved one, a job, a pet; we divorce, or we become ill. Lives get turned upside down in an instant, and some, unfortunately, face more than one of these events. I realize these challenges are beyond my scope of expertise. My advice is for them to seek the support of family, friends, church and/or the guidance of a mental-health professional.
But as familiar as I am with the physical benefits of exercise - such as the prevention of high blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases - I also know it is an active strategy to help manage depression and anxiety. People who exercise reap mental benefits and are better equipped to handle life's challenges than people who do not. Research from the Mayo Clinic suggests that 30 minutes of exercise a day, three to five days a week, can significantly alleviate depression symptoms. Even smaller amounts of activity - as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time - can improve mood in the short term.
The decision to start exercise is the most difficult step because when you are depressed, exercise usually seems like the last thing you want to do. This is where support comes in because if you can overcome this obstacle and increase activity in small doses, it can begin to ease the symptoms almost immediately.
It's not fully understood how exercise alleviates the debilitating effects of depression and anxiety, but these are a few of the theories. Exercise: