There’s ample evidence suggesting the incredible connection between our body and mind. This is why phrases like ‘too much stress makes you sick’ are true. A famous research called as the Whitehall study found that workers in low-level jobs, in which they have high levels of stress and low autonomy, had more than twice the risk of developing metabolic syndrome – a precursor to heart diseases and diabetes – compared with employees in higher-level jobs (Chandola et al, 2006).
Today the breakthrough in our understanding of the mind-body connection have been translated into many forms of therapies in order to support patients with minor to serious health illnesses. “The Connection Between Mind And Body” written by The Bravewell Collaborative is a good read where they summarise the most ground-breaking studies and therapies available today.
Only a healthy body can bestow a healthy mind and vice versa. Then what can you do to make the most out of this phenomenon to your advantage? Here’s one of the most famous experiments from James Blumenthal (published in the Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine). It’s about fighting depression, but we can all learn a valuable lesson from it.
Fighting Depression: Exercise Vs. Medication
Blumenthal gathered 156 adults suffering from mild to moderate cases of depression and they were divided into three different groups:
Group 1: Patients allocated in this group were treated with sertraline, an antidepressant drug (they go by the brand names of Zoloft and Lustral). In 2011 alone, over 37 million sertraline prescriptions were given out for various conditions including major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety and panic.
Group 2: Patients in this group were given a combination of medication and exercise. They used the same medication (same dose) as Group 1, along with regular exercise. The exercise programme given out to them were identical to the one given to patients under Group 3 below.
Group 3: Patients in this group only had exercise. Three times per week, they performed 45 minutes of exercise. This included 10 minutes of warm-up, 30 minutes of walking or jogging at a pace that would maintain a heart rate that was 80% to 90% of their maximum, and then 5 minutes of cool down.
And here are the results:
Each patient was treated for 4 months under the supervision of researchers and professional staff. At the end of the treatment period, the researchers were surprised to find out that all three groups had equal results. Treating depression with exercise alone was just as effective as medication. But when the researchers took the experiment and recorded the results over a longer period of time, things got even more interesting.
Long Term Results Between Exercise And Medication
After the 4 months of treatment, the researchers gave all the patients the freedom of spending their next 6 months as they wish. They were welcomed to continue their treatment on their own or to try something new.
When the researchers followed up with the patients 6 months later, the results were the following:
- Group 1 (Medication only): 38% of patients relapsed into depression.
- Group 2 (Medication + Exercise): 31% of patients relapsed into depression.
- Group 3 (Exercise only): only 8% of patients relapsed into depression.
Why Exercise Was More Effective Long Term
Dr. Blumenthal and his colleagues studied this result and commented that:
“One of the positive psychological benefits of systematic exercise is the development of a sense of personal mastery and positive self-regard, which we believe is likely to play some role in the depression-reducing effects of exercise.”
In other words, it was the discipline, commitment and the accumulation of “small-wins” over time that led to increased senses of self-worth and confidence. It’s not that medications don’t work, but the subtle shift in empowerment and confidence is what makes all the difference.
The Hidden Message
The immediate message of the study is obvious: if you are suffering from depression, exercise is a great alternative to medication, and long term wise, exercise may deliver superior results. But it’s irrelevant whether you are suffering from depression or not. The results of this study clearly shows that there is an intimate relationship between the human body and mind, and we can all use this information to our advantage.
Whatever goals you might have set for yourself, the very first step to actually achieving it starts from believing in yourself. They say the sky is the limit but really, it is your own self-limiting thoughts that limit you. We’ve seen it already. Having the correct mind-set of empowerment and confidence is much more potent than pills when it comes to changing how we feel, the way we move and ultimately, live our lives.
If you don’t have a healthy body, you can’t have a healthy mind and vice versa. Start feeding your body and mind with everything that’s good. Life is too short for anything less. So let’s make sure anything that we think, look, read or say adds value and health to our minds and body.