Dr William Goldwag

When we have patients who are depressed and we can get them moving, the depression is greatly alleviated. Of course, drugs have changed the whole treatment of depression greatly, but the impact exercise can have on depression has often been overlooked, and it needs to be re-emphasized. People who are on antidepressants may improve, but the way for them to really get back to functioning well--back in touch with their environment, back to work, back in relationships with their family--is to get them moving. And there's no better way to get people moving than through exercise, which has no limits.

The individual is the important thing to take into account when I recommend exercise. There is no one exercise that is good for everybody. Some people can just do a little bit; some can push themselves much further. Ask anybody who has gone from a relatively sedentary life to an exercise program and they will all report the same thing: more energy, more interest in what is going on, a clearer mind, and less stress. Being active, therefore, is an integral part of any kind of medical program, particularly for people who are having mental disturbances.

I have a lot of patients who have had very stressful medical histories or emotional histories. Nowadays, when more and more people are revealing the difficulties they had as children--the abuse, both sexual and nonsexual--their history of stress based on these early childhood experiences continues to operate. Even though their lives may be relatively serene now, psychically they are still dealing with a lot of these issues.

At the same time, they have to be made to realize that their nutrition plays an integral role in feeling well. They have to supply their bodies with proper nutrients and eliminate the excesses or chronic addictions to alcohol, drugs, or food (including sweets and sugar). Inevitably, I find that if someone gets away from an addiction to sugar, they function much better. The old term hypoglycemia is very appropriate for their condition, particularly for people with chronic depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and chronic immune system dysfunction. These people find that when they modify their diets and get off sugars, their mental functioning improves considerably.

This is the first step: switching to a healthy diet containing lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and minimizing the amount of meat in the diet. Now some people will feel better once they modify their diet, and they'll be able to move right into more activity. Some people need to start off with some kind of moderate exercise program and almost automatically they will start to look for a more nutritious diet. The two seem to go hand in hand. Nowadays, so many athletes are paying a lot more attention to what they eat, in addition to their workouts. Similarly, many people who are paying attention to their diets now find that exercise almost becomes an inevitable consequence of paying attention to promoting good health.

After paying attention to exercise and nutrition, you need to be aware of the stresses of your own lifestyle: your own patterns of behavior and how they are manifested and how they may be altered by more healthy ways of thinking. For example, if you frequently get upset by dwelling on the past, then you need to try not to think so much about what took place in the past or what is going to happen in the future. Your emotional work is to learn how to focus on the present reality, what's going on now, by putting the body in a mode where it is accepting what's happening now, so you're ready for anything that may happen, instead of reliving crises over and over again.

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