One thing I’ve stated repeatedly since I started this blog over a year ago is that we are multi-faceted beings.
As a chiropractor, my first mandate is to help people achieve and maintain optimum physical health, but I began to recognize very early on that spinal adjustments and joint manipulation can only take you so far on that path. You must also understand nutrition, neural networks, sleep, and movement, to name a few.
But no understanding of wellness is complete without a study of mental, emotional, and spiritual health. That’s why Thursdays are “Think Right Thursdays” on this blog. If you don’t believe you will get well, you won’t – no matter what adjustments, exercises, and diet we develop together. If you see yourself as fat, you won’t lose weight.
Your mental, emotional, and spiritual state has a profound effect on your physical health. Consider that stress is one of the leading causes of cancer, inflammation, digestive disorders, psoriasis, and a host of other diseases. Stress will steal your sleep, your appetite, and even leech nutrients from your system. This isn’t a new revelation. Research on this topic has been public knowledge for decades, especially since the dawn of the open Internet.
What is less understood is the powerful effect of physical health on your mental and emotional state. While it is obvious that prolonged or intense sickness can cause fear, stress, exhaustion, and dementia and schizophrenia can be tied to nutritional deficiencies, most people don’t hear about the research that links exercise to mental and emotional wellness.
Today’s “Move Right Monday” article is going to sound an awful lot like “Think Right Thursday,” but it’s important that we understand the wellness connections that tie together the various parts of our lives.
A New Understanding of Depression
Take depression, for example. Depression is one of the most debilitating, destructive conditions we experience in America, and tens of millions of people suffer from it day after day.
I don’t like to call it an “illness” because that term stigmatizes it in people’s minds, and leads people to associate it with prescription drugs. In truth, depression has a spiritual side and a physiological side. Plus, it exists along a continuum from “having a bad day” to “I want to die” to “I don’t feel anything anymore.”
I don’t want to minimize depression in any way, because it is as real as the nose on your face, and it affects people’s lives in significant ways. The spiritual side of depression is beyond the scope of this article, but I want to give you some food for thought about healthy ways to manage the physiological side of it.
We are only beginning to understand the biomechanics of the brain. What we do know is that the activities we call “thinking” and the activities our nervous system understands as motor control are actually the electrochemical transmissions of synapses in the brain. Some of them happen automatically, like breathing and the pulsing of the heart; others start with a conscious decision on our part, like reasoning and communication (please, no jokes about the times we communicate without thinking).
What we are starting to recognize in the medical community is the delicate balance of nutrients that is required to nourish the brain and keep it healthy. Without getting too deep into chemistry, it is possible for the chemical makeup of the brain to get out of balance.
What are the nutrients your brain needs?
- The brain and its synapses are made up of a solution of water and fat cells. Omega-3 fatty acids create and protect the cell membranes and insulate nerves. In fact, krill oil is emerging as a key weapon in the fight against Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Antioxidant Vitamins C and E protect cells from free radical damage.
- B Vitamins reduce inflammation in the brain and promote memory. Folate is a central treatment for cognitive deterioration.
- Glucose is our brains’ favorite source of energy, and most of it comes from protein, especially the amino acids Tyrosine, Tryptophan, and Glutamine, which are precursors to the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
Brain Chemistry At Work
What researchers have observed for the last thirty years or so is that neurotransmitters are the precursors to emotion. You can be having a great day and suddenly take a nose dive after lunch.
It could be that your lunch included too much sugar and your body’s immediate insulin reaction sent a signal to your brain that your brain interpreted as fatigue or anxiety. Serotonin made you feel sleepy, and so your brain was expecting a shot of feel-good dopamine to follow. When the dopamine shot didn’t come (or didn’t meet your brain’s expectations), your brain released adrenaline or cortisol to shake you up. You spend the rest of the day feeling jittery.
This is a slight over-simplification, but it demonstrates that it’s relatively easy to upset the balance of your brain. How your body understands the chemical signals that follow will determine how you “feel” later. Your body may be sending you “fatigue” signals, but if your mind interprets them as “hunger,” you will go to the pantry instead of taking a quick siesta.
So, What Does This Have To Do With “Move Right Monday?”
I took a little bit of a rabbit trail to establish the brain chemistry behind what we’re going to talk about.
What researchers at Duke University found during studies back in the 1990s was that exercise had the same or better effect on the treatment of depression as anti-depressants, without any of the side effects. In effect, exercise stimulated the production of endorphins and other “feel-good” neurotransmitters in the hippocampus area of the brain where they were lacking during bouts of depression.
This is amazing news because it means it is possible to generate the kind of brain cells you need to fight depression without chemicals. Not only is exercise free, but it has a long list of health benefits in addition to mental and emotional health. It can be done anywhere at any time. Most important, it has no side effects (except maybe some tired muscles for a few minutes).
According to an article by Dr. Jospeh Mercola, “Those who exercised with low-intensity for three and five days a week showed a 30 percent reduction in symptoms. Participants who did stretching flexibility exercises 15 to 20 minutes three days a week averaged a 29 percent decline.”
He also shared that as many as 25 percent of mental health professionals in the United Kingdom prescribe exercise as a first-line treatment for depression, before chemical antidepressants. That may include a gym membership, but may just as likely include outdoor gardening, brisk walks, nature trails, hiking, and high-impact interval training that can be done at home.
Walk It Off
If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed at work, take 10 minutes to go for a walk around the block. Get outside. Walk. It sounds laughably simplistic, but it’s absolutely backed by research.
I have several patients and friends who are executives, firefighters, pastors, managers, and others in positions of high stress. Most of them – if not all of them – deal with depression on a regular basis. I tell them to exercise. Run. Hit the gym before work. Take a yoga or Zoomba course at the YMCA. Get the neurotransmitters working for you.
Dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, melatonin, oxytocin, and endorphins flush through your body during a workout (oxytocin is most common when you’re having a good time working out with friends), sending refreshing, even healing signals to your muscles, organs, and skin. Best of all, your body produces them on its own, without side effects.
Now, the trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry doesn’t get anything when you go for a walk, so you can be sure that you will never hear it talked about on TV (Have you ever noticed who sponsors the evening news? Big pharma. Do you suppose they might have some influence over what stories make it to broadcast and which don’t?).
My Prescription For Fighting Depression
If you’re fighting the blues, feeling the pressure at work, or struggling to get out of bed, please hear me. I don’t want to diminish what you’re going through in any way, but I do want to offer you a way to improve your outlook.
Here’s my prescription to you:
Begin watching the “Move Right Monday” exercise videos we’ve posted here in February and March and start adding these movements to your daily routine. I know that when you’re down, you don’t want to do anything, but that’s when you need to do it the most. When you’re skidding downhill, you have to plant your feet and take a stand or you will just keep falling.
These are simple movements you can do anywhere, anytime. You don’t have to go to the gym, or even change into sweats. Set a timer and do them for five to ten minutes every hour on the hour. Start with the first one for a day, then add the second one. I produced them in groups of four, so build a simple 10- to 20-minute workout with the four exercises, to establish a base of movement. Over a couple of days, you will start to feel more flexible, more stable, and maybe even more positive. Let your body begin generating the neurotransmitters you need to rise out of where you’ve been.
More To It
Now, this is just the physiological side of my prescription. Here are a couple other tips to help you win:
Confront the stressors in your life. Too often, we suffer injustice or abuse because we are afraid to fight (or just too tired). It might be time to speak up for yourself. If you are afraid there will be repercussions, get an unbiased third party involved. Get help.
Forgive. Unforgiveness will kill you. First, it will kill your relationships, then it will destroy your body. I’m not making this up. Unforgiveness is a toxic stressor that can cause cancer. I’ve seen it kill people. It is also a root of depression. Get it out of your life.
Sleep. Often, the stress and mental fatigue of sleep deprivation will cause dark depression. Your body, brain, and soul all need to sleep. At least seven hours, and preferably eight hours per night. No excuses. Sleep.
Eat healthy. When you’re depressed, you want to eat junk food because it makes you feel better. Stop. Remove the sugar from your diet. I know you feel like you want it, but it’s eating you. Trust me on this. This one thing will improve so many things in your life, it’s not funny. It should be illegal. Eat fresh greens, broccoli, cucumbers, and maybe a little grilled chicken or turkey. Take a good B-Vitamin complex and magnesium. Call my office and I will recommend one.
Drink more water. To deal with imbalances in the brain, you need to keep it well-hydrated. Thirst is a sign of dehydration, and your brain suffers before the rest of your body.
I want to hear an update from you after a couple of weeks. Send me a note on Facebook, or if you’re in the Naples area, stop by my office behind the YMCA and tell me in person. We are in this together. I want to see you live life to the fullest, not hampered by physical or emotional limitations.
Let’s break through and get a victory!
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas