Richard G. Petty, MD

Exercise and Mood

Most people who exercise on a regular basis soon begin to notice that if they miss a day or two, it will quickly have an effect on their mood and motivation. There’s recently even been some research to confirm it. Many years ago it was shown that one of the mechanisms for the “Runner’s high,” was the production of endorphins and we now have a great deal of research that is revealing the fundamental mechanisms linking exercise and mood.

Though the link between exercise and mood has been recognized for decades, in the last few years we have seen an increasing body of evidence that exercise can have a useful effect on people with mood disorders. The evidence is extensive (For example: 1. 2. 3.) and is now so strong that many clinicians – and certainly all practitioners of Integrated Medicine – routinely recommend physical exercise as part of a package of health care. There is particularly good evidence that exercise will help with some of the less common types of depression. An exercise program may particularly benefit women with progesterone-related premenstrual mood disturbances.

We now have some good evidence about the mechanisms by which exercise can improve mood. Researchers in China did some experimental work in rats with what they called “Chronic unpredictable stress.” It is just what it sounds like. If the little critters keep getting stressed, they develop many of the signs of depression: they show loss of appetite, social withdrawal and a reduction in exploratory behavior. We could say that the repeated stress reduces their resilience. Chronic stress causes dysfunction in the hormonal system that links the hypothalamus and pituitary glands at the base of the brain, with the adrenal glands that are perched atop the kidneys.

The researchers then gave some of the rats the opportunity to exercise on a wheel. The exercising rats had an increase in the amount of a growth factor called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in a key region of the brain called the hippocampus. In the non-exercisers, the levels of the growth factor went down as they experienced more and more stress. Exercise also smoothed out stress-induced rises in the hormone cortisol.

This is particularly interesting because previous research had shown us that exercise can increase BDNF levels in the brains of stressed and unstressed animals. We also know that if an antidepressant is going to work, it has to be able to stimulate the production of BDNF in the hippocampus of the brain.

One thing that has not been much studied is the impact of exercise on sleep architecture. Most exercisers know that a good workout, run or hike can make you sleep like a log. And there is increasing evidence that correcting sleep disturbances can be a most effective way of improving mood. So much so that many of us now believe the sleep disturbances underlie many mood disorders, rather than sleep disturbances being symptoms of sleep disorder.

My conclusion from reading the literature and working with countless individuals is that unless there is a medical contraindication, a combination or weight training and aerobic exercise should be part of the treatment program for anyone with depression. The biggest problem is motivating someone with depression t do something like exercise. Sometimes it is necessary to wait until the primary treatment has taken hold. Though we have often had a great deal of success by using some of the motivational systems that I’ve described in Healing, Meaning and Purpose.

Living in Balance

“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together . . .”
–William Shakespeare (English Poet and Dramatist, 1564-1616)

I have a favorite scene in one of my all time favorite movies, Chariots of Fire, in which the China-born Scottish missionary Eric Liddell is told that the world may be ready for a “muscular Christian.”

I’ve spent more than three decades in the company of holistic practitioners, ecologists and other people working toward a better future. But over the years I’ve had many friendly debates with people about the way in which so much of their activities are all about love and peace, turning the other cheek, and activities that I can only describe as “Really, really Yin.”

On one level this is all fine: we live in a world that has spent at least six thousand years extolling the virtues of Yang energy: Action, fight, conquest, domination of women. The list is a long one. And it has got us into a mess. But does that mean that becoming totally Yin is the answer? Yin, the “female energy” that grounds, takes in and stabilizes can really only act in the presence of Yang energy. Whether we are looking at individuals or at the relationships and society that we create, we need to balance the two forces. I worry that the anodyne approach to personal development, that insists that we should all be quiet, passive and yielding, may not be the best approach to balance out our lives to help us help the planet.

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
–Dante Alighieri (Italian Poet and Philosopher, 1265-1321)

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”
–Paulo Freire (Brazilian Educator, 1921-1997)

To use the terminology of spiral dynamics, if we get stuck in the Green Meme, with no spark of the creative, strong Red Meme that gives us the strength to fight to defend ourselves, how will we get
things done? What will propel us to setting out to perform heroic acts, rather than just staying at home doing the laundry?

In no way am I suggesting that you need to become a violent or aggressive individual. But if you have been moving toward your calm center, the Yin aspect of life, or the Green Meme, how will you be able to help the world in time of crisis? How will you be able to form dynamic relationships based on partnering rather than domination?

Are you living in balance, or have you allowed yourself to be sucked into mawkish New Age sentimentality that may not serve you in times to come?

One of the essential principles of integrated (a.k.a. integrative) medicine, is to re-establish balance in a person’s life. Could any problems that you are facing be a result of having your Yin and Yang out of balance? Or your center of gravity being totally located in the Green Meme? Could you have no motivation or energy because you’ve got out of balance?

I urge you to use intuition and introspection, to seek inner guidance to see if you are missing out on something very important in your life and in your relationships.

“The sage grasps the universe by the arm. He blends everything into a harmonious whole.”
–Chuang Tzu (Chinese Philosopher, c.369-286 B.C.E.)

“Unless the wisdom of the East and the energy of the West can be harnessed and used harmoniously, the world will be destroyed.”
— George Gurdjieff (Armenian-born Adept, Teacher and Writer, c.1873-1949)

Technorati tags:


“Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people."

–Lee Iacocca (American Businessman and Former CEO of Chrysler, 1924-)

I am always on the look out for tips or techniques that might help my clients and students. But sometimes I come away scratching my head, after reading about some “new” technique or hearing someone discussing a life principle or healing method. So often I wonder why the author or he speaker hasn’t checked his or her facts.

I’ve recently seen an entire self-help system based upon a discredited psychological model of a disease. There’s a book and a website and loads of glowing testimonials. Maybe the methods work, and maybe they don’t. But if the basic principle is wrong, it’s impossible to apply the methods in a new situation. One of the fruits of the Chinese Cultural Revolution was the creation of the “barefoot doctors” – peasants who provided basic medical care throughout much of rural China. They had little training but had a set of manuals that told them exactly what to do with most common ailments. And when they came up against something that was in the book, they were fine. But because the practitioners had not been trained on the basic principles of anatomy, physiology or subtle systems, the system had no flexibility. If you had a chest infection, and the same signs and symptoms that they had in the book, then everything was fine. But if you had symptoms or an illness not in the book, you were out of luck.

In recent years a lot of people have gone back to talking about pleasure and pain as the principle motivators of human behavior. Of course, these two factors play some part in our behavior. And the idea that they are the key drivers is simple, easy to understand and easy to explain.

And dead wrong.

Eighty-six years ago Sigmund Freud published a short essay entitled Jenseits des Lustprinzips, which was eventually translated into English as Beyond the Pleasure Principle. All those years ago he had already come to the conclusion that there were other equally important drives, and that to try and reduce human motivation and behavior to pleasure and pain is very misleading.

We have a very large scientific literature on some of the factors involved in human motivation, how to achieve change and improvement in our lives and how to motivate others. Let me give just a few of the more important ones that cannot be reduced to pain and pleasure, and for which we have good empirical data:
1.    Clarity of vision
2.    Encouragement
3.    Personal engagement
4.    Recognition
5.    Pride
6.    Free flow of energy and information
7.    Appropriate reward systems (money is often not the best one!)
8.    Personal and group expectations
9.    Creating shared goals
10.    Transpersonal motivation: Inspiration and leaving a legacy

There are others, like emotional congruence, that can, perhaps, be reduced to the pleasure/pain axis. But it is the last of these that I am going to spend more time on in the near future: the differences between motivation and inspiration, and how combining the two together may have an important impact upon your life.

Technorati tags:

logo logo logo logo logo logo