Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being
by Michael Otto and Jasper Smits
Oxford University Press, 2011, 235 pages, $19.95
When people go to their doctor because they’re feeling anxious or depressed, all too often they leave the office with a prescription for antidepressants. One read-through of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety and chances are they’d rather lace up a pair of runners instead.
Co-authored by Boston University psychology professor Michael Otto and Jasper Smits, associate professor of psychology at Dallas’s Southern Methodist University, this clearly written and comprehensive book explores ways regular exercise boosts mood—and helps readers make it happen.
As the researchers explain, the evidence is in, and it’s solid. Several long-term, large-scale studies conducted in Canada and the United States have shown that exercise increases the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, low levels of which have been linked to depression.
Although the authors don’t discount the role of medication and talk therapy altogether, they argue that exercise can function as the body’s own natural antidepressant.
There’s plenty of science here, but the book is hardly the stuff of academia. Rather, Otto and Smits have a tone that’s as knowledgeable as it is friendly, and they’re never condescending. The two health professionals seem like real people—and so it’s all the more reassuring to hear that they too sometimes find it hard to get moving.
In their clinical practice, they’ve heard every excuse out there (too busy/tired/stressed/depressed to work out). They not only acknowledge such common barriers, but also empathize with people who admit to a lack of motivation.
Good thing, then, that Exercise for Mood and Anxiety includes scores of practical tips on how to put all the logic and best intentions into action. The first way to incorporate regular exercise, they say, is to maximize the pleasure and minimize the pain. The two encourage everything from mindfulness to bringing an audio book to rewarding yourself after the fact.
There are sections dedicated to healthy eating, including a fascinating take on ways environmental factors influence consumption. (Candles and soft music, for instance, make people want to linger at restaurants—and eat dessert.)
Perhaps the most convincing argument in favour of regular exercise for mood is that, unlike the goal of losing weight, the benefits are almost immediate. About 20 minutes into a workout you start feeling better, and that effect can last hours or even into the next day.
By providing simple coaching strategies, Otto and Smits come across as effective coaches themselves. They’ll get you reading, and then get you moving.