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Exercise Away Those Holiday Blues

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Nearly all of us struggle with the “blues” from time to time, but for some people these moods continue for weeks, months or even years. This condition which affects how people feel about themselves – the way they see and function in the world around them is called depression. Believe it or not, the holidays with all their media hype, increased expectations and sometimes monumental disappointments can cause more people to spiral into serious depression than at any other time of the year.  

There are basically two types of depression. Major depression has a combination of symptoms that interfere with your abilities to work, sleep, eat, and enjoy pleasurable activities. Episodes of major depression may occur once, but more commonly they reoccur several times in a lifetime. 

Dysthymia, a milder form of depression, involves long- term chronic symptoms that, although not disabling, keep a person from feeling good or functioning well. This type of person is more prone to suffer from major depression later than any other.

Depression is found in people of all ages. Genetics can play a part, although depression can occur in those with no family history of the illness. Serious medical illnesses such as stroke, cancer, and hormonal disorders can trigger depression. Others prone to the illness include people who are overwhelmed by stress as well as those going through a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one, the breakup of a relationship, or the loss of a job. 

Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness and guilt. Often there is a loss of interest in pleasurable activities such as having sex, enjoying a favorite sport or socializing with friends.  Decreased energy and fatigue can make even routine activities a chore. Depressed people also report difficulty concentrating, frequent insomnia or over sleeping. Thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts are not uncommon. During the holidays many of these feelings worsen as the person experiences the world noisily celebrating as he or she feels alienated and worthless. 

If you have symptoms of depression that last more than several days, get a physical exam. If your doctor finds no physical cause, then have him refer you to a qualified mental health professional who can lead you through a psychological evaluation. For many people, a combined treatment plan works best: an anti-depressant for symptom relief and talk therapy to learn better ways to cope with depression or the causes of depression.

By far one of the best methods of keeping depression at bay this holiday season and forever is through good old- fashioned exercise! Both high-intensity exercise (such as aerobics, dance, swimming, cycling, swimming and cardio machines) and lower-intensity activities (such as yoga, walking, and stretching classes) have been associated with a reduced risk of depression. Adding just 4 hours of exercise to your week can lower the risk of a new episode of depression by 17%, according to a study published Nov.5, 2019 in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

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