Exercise @ Gym for Severe Depression & Brain Shift
June 8, 2016 10:54 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for input or even some plans that might help me keep on track and ultimately get my brain and body in better shape. My main goal is the brain shift and habit and then if I lose weight that is awesome.

I've sought out many books on exercise and depression but cannot find much on plans for men who are (fairly) physically able. The books basically state HOW exercise helps depression, which is fine. I need some plans or ideas. If I can get out of bed to the gym, I have started walking for 30 min at 3.6 for my small gait and doing some basic machine workouts. My biggest issue (after making it to gym!) is making a plan and tracking it for motivation and attaboys to myself. I haven't done well with apps. Some of that is due to the depression but more so to ADD. so maybe something I can write down as I go for now. Some physical issues at moment - Hip Bursitis & plantar fascia on the mend...so I have been walking and cannot do elliptical/run yet. Trigger finger on the mend so I have been sticking to machine weights lately as my fave db grip exacerbates it (It is on the mend, I promise.) I know it is about getting a habit but also getting the sweet spot in the brain going. Fwiw, I am in mid 40s, 5'5" and weigh (ugh) 198. I am now eating healthier, too but need to focus on the brain shift. Thank you for your input or directions to other sites/books/etc. I appreciate it immensely.
posted by chicaboom to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I started StrongLifts 5x5 right at a month ago. It's been a pretty amazing 30 days.

No machines. No DBs. Just basic compound lifting with a ridiculously easy (and very, very well-built and implemented) app that coaches you through the exercises, weights, and if you spring for the extra couple bucks, even shows you how to load them - both for warmup sets and work sets. It's awesome. Times your rest periods, too.

Regarding the brain shift - I got into it for for the fitness but I've noticed an incredibly marked improvement in my attitude and sense of well-being. I look forward to the workouts, thinking about how I might reward myself by getting through the next sets (you progress with the weights each workout) and I'm pleased because I am lifting things that I couldn't lift 30 days ago.

Because StrongLifts focuses heavily on your form, it forces you into a mental attentiveness about how you're performing something as straightforward as a squat. From your breathing, to tension in your wrists, angles of feet, knees...it's a bunch of tiny challenges that add up to an excellent and rewarding experience.

For me, anyway.

The positive mental effects snuck up on me. In fact, I didn't really realize how good I was feeling until a late evening out with heavy drinking followed by 2-3 days not working out made me realize a) the progress I'd made and b) the damage that drinking really does to the body and mind of a man in his early 40s.

Check it out. This is, so far, my favorite workout and I'm really enjoying it. Managed to deadlift 175lbs yesterday, which for me, at my fitness level, would have been a miracle over a month ago.
posted by Thistledown at 11:06 AM on June 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

Interval training is perfect brain food. This amounts to short bursts of higher intensity followed by brief recovery periods of less intensity. This will trigger endorphins and dopamine to the level that it might be intrinsically motivating.

See if there are any free community groups that do P90x and attend if you can, as that model for fitness is centered around this "runners high" phenomenon. Otherwise, you could research methods that will allow you to work around your current physical issues.

I believe that high rep weight training could produce the same effects but don't quote me on that.

As far as a plan, I find just committing to going a certain number of days per week is a great place to start. It is realistic, achievable and hence easy to build some momentum. CrossFit has a great combination of social motivation and tracking methods too, if that aspect appeals to you. It is like cooperative leaderboards.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:06 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have several of your problems. Depression, ADD, and I HATE exercise. I have found the only thing that works for me is long walks while being entertained. Get a tablet or a DVD player or a gym with TVs you can control and watch something you really enjoy while you treadmill. Time spent is probably more important that speed. I find if I don't go for at least 45 minutes it doesn't work so well for me. Because I am being entertained and not strongly pushing myself (I break a sweat, but I'm not winded), I don't notice the passing of time so much, and have been able to stick with this regimen for 18 months so far. I have tried other sources of distraction, such as music and books, in the past, and found they don't work so well.

I also had some plantar fasciaitis at one point, and found the stretches my doctor told me to do for them cleared it up within a week. Not sure if this is your problem, though.
posted by ubiquity at 11:30 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am a mid-40s guy on antidepressants for 10 years. I recently had some sessions with a personal trainer and it was fantastic. Obviously recommending something with a cost like that is not appropriate for everyone, but the market for PT has recently grown massively and in the UK at least you can find good people for £30 an hour. Ten sessions of that is something to consider, if you do have the means.
posted by Coda Tronca at 11:34 AM on June 8, 2016

If you can afford a trainer, I absolutely would do it. They tell you specifically what to do so you don't have to research and agonize over the best approach (perfection is the enemy of the good, etc). Plus because you're paying them, you have the motivation to show up. And they're a great cheerleader. The affirmation and increase in self-esteem is 110% worth it. I'm doing strength training, not weight loss, but I can physically see the difference in my body and that encourages me to keep going. I'm an anxious, angsty person and it's made a tangible difference in my mindset.
posted by AFABulous at 11:40 AM on June 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

I just started working out to help my depression, and I'm going from Michael Matthews' book Thinner, Leaner, Stronger (Bigger Leaner Stronger is the version aimed at guys). The book comes with a link to download a pdf of his Year One Challenge (which you can also buy in journal/book form to log your workouts), which lists out the workouts from his program in a 3, 4 or 5 day split. I like the workouts because they're based around the big compound lifts, with some accessories, so it's not too faffy and complicated. I can spend time working on my form and can clearly measure my progress, which helps. I also like that the program changes every 8 weeks (with a deload week in between), so it's really structured and I don't have to make any decisions about what to do when I get to the gym. I often do 25 minutes(ish) of cardio intervals afterward if I have the time/energy, which also helps lift my mood.

I'm doing the 5-day split so I go every morning before work which means I have to get up super early, but I knew if I only went every other day I'd never build the routine. YMMV, but for me getting a workout in before my day starts makes everything afterwards more bearable, and I've been going for 7 straight weeks now, so I think it's working. My plan after this year is to move onto Stronglifts, for all the reasons Thistledown lists (I found it too hard to start with, even with an empty bar, but YMMV there too). I, um, also stick a star on the date in my diary for every day that I go, which is a nice visual yay! and encouragement to keep it up.
posted by daisysteiner at 11:45 AM on June 8, 2016

If you can do some of your walking outdoors in a park or other natural environment that might be helpful to your mood.
posted by mareli at 11:56 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am now eating healthier, too but need to focus on the brain shift.

A low carb paleo-style diet really helps my brain funk. (I used the Whole 30.)

Where exercise is concerned, for me the key is to sweat for at least 30 minutes and to be out of breath for at least ten.
posted by salvia at 12:05 PM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's a new treatment called MAP training that combines meditation and exercise back-to-back which seems particularly effective, if that is something you'd be interested in. There's also some small studies that show benefits of meditation for attention management, so possibly a two-fer. Anyway, whether or not that aspect appeals to you, you can probably get an idea of what's a reasonable amount and type of exercise to do from the paper describing that method:
For the meditation practice, participants were instructed to bring their full focus of attention to the breath and to count each breath if that helped to maintain focus on the breath. If their attention drifted to thoughts about the past or future, participants were instructed to acknowledge this change and return their attention to the breath. With practice, one recognizes the transient nature of thoughts and learns to monitor and accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.39 After 20 min of sitting meditation, participants engaged in 10 min of slow-walking meditation, this time focusing their attention on their feet as they transitioned from one foot to the other in a slow walk with other participants. The 10 min walking portion of the meditation session was not only a secondary form of FA meditation training, but also a chance to return blood flow to the extremities before the upcoming session of aerobic exercise. Immediately following the meditation session, participants prepared for the exercise component.

For the physical component, participants performed aerobic exercise at a moderate intensity for 30 min. Following a 5-min warm-up, participants exercised either on a treadmill or cycle ergometer at a heart rate (HR) intensity range corresponding to 50–70% VO2 peak as determined by their individual baseline fitness assessment before MAP training. Trained research staff supervised all exercise sessions and monitored intensity by assessing HR throughout exercise. This dose of exercise (that is, intensity and duration) is consistent with public health recommendations and is known to reduce depressive symptoms among individuals with MDD.40, 41 After 30 min of aerobic exercise, participants cooled down for ~5 min.
Anecdotally even though most of what I've read about depression and exercise has focused on cardio, I've found that heavy (for me!) weightlifting -- Starting Strength in my case but I'm sure any "squat, push, pull" compound lifting program would work -- has big effects on mood, focus, and energy for me. For that kind of stuff, a trainer can be helpful, or you can do the DIY route and get the Starting Strength book/DVD. I will say though that those lifts are sort of technical so if you're depressed and maybe don't have the bandwidth for learning something a little tricky right now, cardio may be a more straightforward option.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:20 PM on June 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

I missed the part about the hip bursitis (lol attention management!!!) -- with running, is the impact the problem, or is it bending that joint at all? The reason I ask is that some people find that they can't run with knee/hip issues but they can cycle or spin with low-ish resistance on a stationary bike.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:25 PM on June 8, 2016

Personally, exercising outdoors, not in a gym, has the best psychological effects for me. No cost, fresh air, and vitamin D from the sun. Ride bikes, jog, walk, hike.
posted by trbrts at 12:50 PM on June 8, 2016

Response by poster: @en forme de poire - The plantar fasica excludes the running due to how my foot hits (for now)...I got hip bursitis by going full throttle on the elliptical for several months & 2 cortisone shots - so, at moment am not able to do squats. I am doing the rehab exercises for hip but it is pretty much good for walking for short times.

@thistledown - The simplicity of focus on the 5x5 is something that I will have to consider when I can do the hip action needed for squats. I'm not sure if I could modify it w/o losing benefits, hence the need for the trainer when I can afford one, I suspect.

@ubiquity - Yes! I am onto that! I loaded my tablet up with movies so can now focus a bit more when walking (and even when I was formerly doing HIIT on elliptical pre-hip injury)...I am on the right track there...glad to hear this from someone else.

@salvia - Yes! i am doing Paleo thanks to family I am staying with...as long as I can fight the munchies at night from drugs, I do think this will help! A bit of willpower on my part to bite the bullet and not bacon at 10pm.

@others - I suspect I will have to go through a PT when I can afford it as it def is difficult to help someone via internet when they have the temporarary injuries..hoepfully temporary. I was concerned a bit by this when I posted my question, that I might be wasting folks' time.

---in toto, I was hesitant on how to reply, b/c the "Yes, But.." is the typical response of a depressive or someone not wanting to change. In my case there may be some excuses though am more trying to work around physical problems as I push to the gym w/o too much real excuse making. I did plenty of bad form exercise or neglected parts when I was younger and not depressed as I see this stuff now come up from that and poor eating prior to this...but believe me when I say all this information is helpful. I may have to have my wife or some other friends help me synthesize much of this...and perhaps I can at least afford a consulting from a PT. I understand there is just so much helpful folks can help blindly online.
posted by chicaboom at 12:51 PM on June 8, 2016

Best answer: Can you carry a backpack with a few heavy books on your walks, and/or find some steep hills? That way you can add some resistance and get your heart rate up more easily without running. When I broke my collarbone and running was intensely painful I tried to walk to work up and down a big hill for exercise; it still wasn't as intense as running but I was definitely sweating by the mid-point of the hill. Also, if you can swim, that might be an option that's easier on the joints.

Upper-body work, like angled push-ups against a wall, might also be an okay thing to throw in the mix as long as you don't try to push through any actual overuse-related pain. Some gyms have an "infinite rope climb" thing that you can also use for a surprisingly intense cardiovascular interval workout, and I've also seen arm bikes ("arm ergometer") at some gyms, which allow you to get a workout without using your lower body at all. I would see a PT at least once if it's at all on the table; you can do the exercises they prescribe at home so you may not need a full course of it.

Finally, re: the habit change part, BJ Fogg has this thing about super small but achievable goals; the goal could even be just getting dressed for the gym, even if you change and go home after two minutes. The part that matters is more that you have a cue (maybe a certain time of day, maybe a phone alert that varies depending on your schedule) and response (going to exercise) so that it becomes automatic, vs. whether you actually go 100% gonads-to-wall every time. It's the "just floss one tooth" model. Usually you're going to say "well, I already am flossing, I might as well do the rest of them while I'm here" (or "I already got dressed for the gym, I might as well work out" in this case), but the important thing is that even if you just floss one tooth, then it still counts as maintaining your habit. So you continue to give yourself credit for having maintained the habit and not broken the chain even if you only do an abbreviated/light workout, or you have to stop because of pain/injury, or etc. Also, tracking your progress using an app like HabitBull can be an additional motivator. But also, if it all falls apart and you get sick/injured and have to take a couple of weeks off, try to avoid the temptation to write the whole enterprise off (I just went through this); the first day/week back is usually the hardest and then you start to "remember" the habit again.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:06 PM on June 8, 2016

Paleo, bike commuting and HIIT. Twenty minutes of intense bodyweight does far more for my brain than an hour of moderate cardio. Plus, I'm more likely to commit due to the short time required.. I don't get bored cuz it's super engaging.. and the metabolic afterburn makes me feel great. Sweat hard!

I usually do some combination of: bridges, air squats, wall presses, glute activation raises, flying dogs, myotatic crunches, front and side planks, hip flexor stretch, wall sit, pushups, squats, supermans, pullups, dips, leg raises, lunge, burpee, jumps, mountain climbers.

I adapted my exercises from You Are Your Own Gym, Convict Conditioning, Extreme Training by Dragomir "Gago" Mrsic, and Tim Ferris's 4 Hour Body.
posted by fritillary at 6:33 PM on June 8, 2016

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