Demystifying Depression/The Role of Sports
The Role of Sports
The role played by sports and physical exercise in depression is far more complex than either the sports good and sports bad mantras would lead one to assume. Moreover, I would say that this is one area where our current understanding of depression is sorely incomplete. Consequently, beware that much of the material in this section is conjectural. I am well aware that most people's gut will be to dismiss my conjectures as pure rubbish, since "everyone knows that sports are good for you". A couple of years ago I would have whole-heartedly agreed with them, but I have learnt otherwise in the meantime. Furthermore, read carefully and you will see that I do not deny that sports can be good for you. I simply add a poignant however to the issue of sports and depression.
This issue is complex enough to warrant a number of subsections. I will first make a distinction between the temporary improvement of mood brought by sports, versus the long-term actual improvement of the depression. Second, I will put forth the tentative mechanism of why moderate amounts of exercise can help to recover from depression. Third, I will describe the caveats of doing exercise to recover from a depression. At last, I will describe a real-world example of how sports can be used to make people be more active during a depression, with the drawback that recovery takes longer.
Sports or exercise is challenging for people experiencing depression primarily because of the engagement of mind, body and spirit. For example, persons depressed as a result of sexual trauma have spent an unknown length of time separated intellectually from their body(ies). One exercise that allows for a kind of autonomy while truly strengthening the body and connecting mind and body is lap swimming. Here an individual can focus on breathing as one would while engaged in meditation. There are also various kinds of disguises involved in swimming starting with swim goggles. The combination of the "mask" and the single swim lane results in a safe environment.
Swimming requires regular participation. The outcomes (for me) are still being recognized, but the main effort to connect or to reconnect the mind and the body through a concentrated routine of swimming for exercise are being realized.