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ShFIT Talk #15 - Anxiety & Fitness

Did you know that one in six Americans are taking some sort of psychiatric drug which are mostly antidepressants according to a study done in 2016. I am one of the lucky ones who gets to fall into that category as I am currently taking Wellbutrin. I thought once I stopped taking birth control, I would get away from taking something every day, besides my multivitamin….I guess I was wrong.

Anxiety is not uncommon, in fact it is the most common mental illness in the US . According to Our World Data, an estimated 264 million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. Not only that but an estimated 19.1% of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year. That is no laughing matter, if unemployment or suicide rates were at 19.1% it would be taken much more seriously. But so often it is swept under the rug with a keep calm & carry on type mindset.

Yet anxiety is a highly treatable disorder, not only medication but a number of other treatments including diet and exercise yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment. Often people don’t reach out for help because they don’t want to be considered daft or a loon.

Anxiety medication and antidepressant medication in the US have gone up about 400% since 1987. If medication is going up, how come the number of people experiencing depression and anxiety has not gone down??

Maybe it is because anxiety comes from a number of factors including brain chemistry, personality, lifestyle and genetics and maybe it takes a little more than just a pill to help to deal with it. Maybe one size doesn’t fit all….

Dr Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist and brain specialist, suggests that trying other alternatives to medication first may actually be beneficial, because remember, when you take a drug, even one prescribed by a doctor, it has a chemical effect on your brain and body.

Dr. Amen instead believes that brain health is central to all health and success. He believes that we should care for our brain first, and we can do that a number of ways without medication including, but not limited to:

  • Exercising

  • Eating Better

  • Handling our ANTS - Automatic Negative Thoughts, which was named by Dr Amen. ANTS are the "cynical, gloomy, and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep coming all by themselves" however his guide to handling them, real quick, is whenever you feel sad or mad or out of control, write down what you are thinking. Then question it. Talk back to yourself. Challenge it.

Let's look at exercise first. Exercise is considered vital to maintaining mental fitness. Study after study has been done to show that exercise can help reduce stress and fatigue while improving alertness and concentration along with enhancing overall cognitive functions. When we stress, it affects the brain and all the little connections inside the brain. Your brain is basically the motherboard of the body and when it is impacted so is the rest of our body! But just 5 mins. YES FIVE MINUTES of aerobic exercise can start to stimulate the anti-anxiety effects. Studies have shown that just a brisk walk can provide the same type of relief as taking an aspirin for a headache. That is flipping awesome!

One study found that those who participated in regular vigorous exercise were 25% less likely to develop depression and/or anxiety over the next 5 years. That is pretty darn good if you ask me. According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) the most recent federal guidelines for adults recommend at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking) each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity (such as jogging or swimming laps), or a combination of the two.

Next let's take a quick look at diet. According to Dr. Amen, the keto diet has some great results in not only helping to deal with depression and anxiety but a number of other medical issues including cutting seizures frequency in children by more than 50%. The keto diet can be difficult to maintain and it isn't for everyone, but you don’t have to be perfect. Who is??? The main idea of the keto diet, in layman's terms, is to get your daily caloric intake from protein and good fat with significantly less coming from simple carbohydrates. Basically avoid: sugar, soda, pastries, white bread, pasta, etc.

Now as with everything Keto is not the be-all and end-all for diets and, as I mentioned, it is not for everyone. It does have its downsides. Traditional keto is low in fiber which can negatively impact all those good little bacteria guys in our gut. When those good guys don't get fed (from the fiber) it impacts our mood…..increasing not DECREASING the risk of feeling anxious, stressed, depressed and tired. It is important to remember that most of the keto research out there has been done on men, yet so so soooooooo many women are on the keto diet, yet some of the effects the keto diet has on women is still unclear. Some women who are on a keto diet experience hormonal imbalances which again can produce mood issues, anxiety and irritability. Not only that but research on the keto diet shows that following a ketogenic eating plan MAY cause thyroid dysfunction. When a thyroid is either underactive or overactive it can contribute to symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, memory & attention problems, racing thoughts, and more. If you are using the keto diet to reduce anxiety and depression any of these negative side effects end up giving you the exact opposite outcome we were hoping for.

You can always start simple with your diet. According to the Mayo Clinic you can try:

  1. Eating a breakfast that includes some protein

  2. Eating COMPLEX carbohydrates, such as whole-grain NOT simple carbohydrates like sugary foods and drink

  3. Drink plenty of water

  4. Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine (damn those words - avoid alcohol)

  5. Pay attention to food sensitivities

  6. Try to eat healthy and balance! Try 70% Veg. Include food high in omega-3s on a regular basis.

Anxiety is a real thing. You should never be ashamed to seek help, from your doctor or from a therapist. I love my therapist btw and I think we could all use a little therapy in our life. Who doesn’t have problems, really. I know I am loaded with them. And if these 3 alternatives we talked about don’t work for you, it is OK. I workout regularly, eat well and work with a therapist, yet I still am on medication for my anxiety. We all have our struggles.

Just remember if you do go the medication route, medication comes with a whole set of side effects as well. Everything from dry mouth and weight gain/loss to joint pain, decrease sex drive, tremors, seizures and so many more depending on what medication you take.

A little personal story before I wrap this up. When I was diagnosed I did the diet, exercise, therapy, but eventually, after careful consideration and discussions with my therapist, I decided to add medication into my repertoire for anxiety, I was originally prescribed Lexopro and it was NOT a good fit for me. In less than 60 days I put on over 20 lbs even though I was working out every day and eating balanced meals that I carefully tracked for a calorie deficit. It ended up making me feel depressed, NOT be depressed- big difference. I knew this wasn’t going to work for me personally, and after talking to my psychiatrist about this concern she started switching me to my new medication. Without changing anything in my daily exercise routine and going back to just a balanced diet without worrying about a deficit of calories, the weight just started to melt off and within 90 days I was back down to my original weight. You know the one where you get on the scales and tell yourself you still need to lose 5 lbs. LOL. That additional weight I had to carry around was something my body was not used to. If I would have remained on that medication, who knows how much more weight I would have put on, if the depressed feelings would have turned into a more serious version of depression and how bad the long term consequences would have been for me health wise considering I would have been overweight. What lesson did I learn from that, to talk and be very open and honest with my psychiatrist. If I don’t like one of the side effects, say something because there are a wide variety of medications out there for anxiety and you don’t have to settle on being unhappy with yourself just so you can cope with the world. That is only my story. Everyone who deals with anxiety and depression have their own experiences and I think it is important for us to talk about them and share them because we are not alone.


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