In the last several posts I’ve discussed the importance of setting an intention to heal from depression which must be tied to a greater meaning or higher calling for your life. I’ve also discussed how we must optimize our nutrition to eliminate inflammatory foods and only eat the highest quality foods for our health and wellbeing. This week I’d like to talk about the importance of movement.
Movement is one of the most important aspects of healing, especially when it comes to depression. The human body is designed to move. If you look back to our ancient ancestors they were always on the move in order to survive and thrive. They needed to hunt and forage for their food, find materials in nature to build their shelters and make their clothing and weapons. Because they were in more close contact with the natural world, they also needed to be wary of predators.
As society has advanced from the hunter-gatherer age to the agricultural age to the industrial age to the technological age and now to the information overload age, humanity as a whole has become more sedentary. We no longer have to hunt and forage to find out food. In fact, we don’t even have to leave our house and can have food brought to us with the click of a button. There are people who spend their entire lives indoors with no need to leave their home.
We have also created a society where we need to work to earn a living to pay for our household living expenses and the things we desire. This means we have to work most of the time, much of which involves being sedentary with very little movement if you work in an office which many people do. The only exception to this rule is those who have active jobs, an example being landscapers, but these are not the majority.
What this has essentially done is created a world in which the amount of movement that we do is significantly less than it was for our ancient ancestors and this, I believe, is one of the factors which has contributed to the rise of chronic illness including depression. In fact, there have been studies which show that exercise is more effective than antidepressants in treating depression. This should not come as a surprise since antidepressants are minimally or marginally effective in treating this condition, however the value of exercise and movement lies in several factors.
First of all, movement increases heart rate which, in turn, increases blood flow to the brain which, in itself, is mood enhancing. Second of all, movement validates the reason why we are born with bodies in the first place with the multiple muscles, bones and joints. We always have been designed to move and we must fulfill this need in our daily lives in order to optimize our bodies functionality. Thirdly, a regular exercise and movement practice gives us more strength and endurance which allows us to complete our daily tasks with more efficiency hence reducing our stress level and the risk of developing depression.
So the question then arises, in our modern sedentary society, how do you incorporate movement into our daily lives if you don’t already play sports or regularly exercise. This does not have to be an overwhelming endeavour. All it takes is just 15 minutes a day to get enough movement to reap its benefits. If your argument is that you are too busy with work, daily chores and your kids then I would argue that we all have breaks at work. Why not use this time to go for a brisk walk instead of engaging in useless, idle gossip in the lunchroom?
There are many other things you can do on a regular basis such as parking in the farthest spot at work and at the grocery store so you are forced to walk, using the stairs instead of the elevator, getting a standing workstation at work or even just getting up 5 minutes earlier in the morning to do some simple stretching which is something that I do on a regular basis. If you think that your life is too busy and complicated to incorporate movement into your regular routine than you are simply making excuses and deluding yourself. In the long run, it is only you and your family who will suffer, especially if you develop depression.
My call to action is to see where in your life you can take incremental steps to incorporate movement in your daily life. You will be grateful that you did for the improved health and increased vitality and joy that will come into your life.
Nauman Naeem MD FCCP FRCPC