I’ll be honest, my number one reason for exercising is to manage my emotions. I’m both highly anxious and acutely sensitive, a combination that has spelled disaster for many a romantic relationship not to mention irritated customer service personnel around the world. Although it does make me wicked-good at playing the “What If???” Game. But perhaps I shouldn’t brag about that. Anyhow, the net result of all of my intense emotions is that I need an intense outlet for them. Enter exercise.
Most people, when I explain to them my genuine need for daily sweat fests, say that they are surprised by this because I seem like a naturally calm person. To which I reply, “that’s because you’ve never seen me on a day I’ve missed my workout.” Even knowing I have exercise scheduled for later in the day is often enough to stave the crazies off.
Pity the person who comes between me and my workout.
Past research has backed me up in this department saying that not only is consistent exercise as good in managing mild-to-moderate depression as anti-depressant medications but high-intensity exercise is “the best” way to reduce anxiety. To which I say amen and amen. Apparently we were wrong.
New research breaks the exercise-lower depression connection by pulling out the big guns: a Twin Study. I’ll pause while everyone with a research background oohs and aahs for a minute. Now that I’ve got you all breathless, here are their findings:
– In identical twins, both often report similar levels of depression and anxiety (a finding supported by plenty of other research) pointing to a strong genetic basis for mood disorders.
– Of these twin pairs, researchers looked at those who had differing levels of exercise. The twin who exercised more did not report lower levels of depression or anxiety than the twin who exercised less.
– In addition, if one twin exercised more, then the non-exercising twin reported fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.
– This effect was not observed in fraternal twins, lending more credence to the theory that mood disorders are mainly genetic.
– Lastly, the researchers followed all participants as they increased their exercise and found that “analyses over time showed that individuals who increased their level of exercise did not experience a decrease in anxious and depressive symptoms.”
The researchers weirdly conclude that the connection between mood regulation and exercise was not found because the exercise was “voluntary,” meaning the twins chose it and directed it themselves. They theorize that if exercise were “environmental” meaning imposed on the person by an outside person like a therapist or program, then it might help regulate mood.
None of this really makes any sense to me. From personal experience I have found exercise to be a great outlet for stress. It truly does seem to decrease my anxiety and depressive predilections gifted to me by my genes. (Did I really just write “gifted to me”?? How about “given to me”? I haven’t watched TV in two years and yet Niecy Nash still talks in my head. Egads.) But perhaps my “need” for exercise is actually a compulsive desire along the lines of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and thereby relieves my anxiety when I “give in” to my compulsion?
What say you? Any of you think, like me, that exercise is good for your mood? Am I reading this research incorrectly? Am I the product of a bad combo of too much therapy and a yen for reading studies? Let me have it!