The wonder drug

21Jun10

My old mucker Laura Blue has been writing on time.com about the powerful effect of exercise on depression, and it made me wonder again – is there more depression about these days?

The answer – based on anecdote but that’s good enough for me – seems to be yes, but why? Certainly we all lead separate lives and don’t really connect any more, and I’m sure that’s part of it. We are pack animals after all. We should be seeking out each others’ company.

There’s another argument that we are too rich, with nothing ‘real’ to worry about, but I never really bought that one (arf). It seemed too flimsy and angsty, and I can’t help feeling that the connections between mind and body are much more influential than we think. In other words, if you keep trying to push back against your species’ physical history then eventually you’re going to come a cropper. Working nights over a long period isn’t good for you. Not talking to people face to face makes you unhappy. Sitting on your fat ass for days on end makes you constipated. I mean, blimey, it ain’t that hard to work it out.

(NB, I know that depression is a serious and horrible condition that often requires treatment – I’m only speculating on why it’s more prevalent these days. I’m not saying that a brisk walk will have you right as rain.)

Having read Laura’s article, I wonder whether we suffer more now because we just don’t move around as much as we used to. Think of all that incidental exercise of yesteryear. Everything took physical effort: putting food on the table, tilling a garden, getting from A to B. Crikey, even washing your smalls was hard work.

Laura explains that regular exercise seems to make you less likely to be upset by surprising but not particularly traumatic everyday events, and I was struck by the examples she gave.

“In the case of lab rats and mice, that included being plunged into very cold water or being suspended by the tail. And while those are not exactly problems that most people face, the thinking is that the human neurochemical response may well react similarly, with exercise leaving our brain less susceptible to stress in the face of harmless but unexpected events.”

Now, I’ve just come back from Tooting Lido, and I can tell you that “being plunged into very cold water” isn’t as rare as Laura seems to think – I’m not sure whether I wouldn’t prefer being suspended by the tail.

Frankly, I have no idea whether swimming in the Lido is shoring up my mental buttresses, but I know I’ll be a damn sight less gloomy when they get the hot water fixed in the women’s showers. It’s been off for nearly a fortnight. Brrrrrr.

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2 Responses to “The wonder drug”

  1. 1 PaulW

    Well, speaking as someone who has reluctantly agreed to be depressed, fairly recently, I think I can say that exercise works for a while and then it stops. Not suddenly, but a gradually decreasing payback in terms of good vibes/time. But maybe I’m not running and swimming hard enough?
    I think a left/right combo of exercise and large pills is next. Will let you know how that goes.

    • 2 vanessaharriss

      I am very sorry to hear you’re still having a bad time. So many friends have been struck down by this that I’m becoming obsessed by why it is so prevalent. Barbara Ehrenreich says it’s company we need, but I dunno. It helps me, but maybe it wouldn’t be so useful for loners. They’d prolly feel even worse, being made to jig about with neighbours.


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