Exercise, depression and newspapers

Can the Mail Online be true? A recent headline claimed that suddenly stopping exercising, or what might be termed as exercise cessation, could trigger depressive symptoms in adults.

If you have been reading the Mail Online for long enough, your first thought should be – its the Mail Online.

The Mail Online has consistently resorted to sensationalist headlines, and its paper publication, The Daily Mail is also no different. The reason, as I have explained before too, is that the latter hooks you into buying a paper to satiate your interest, while the former hooks you into reading in order to have more “dwell time” on the page – which is stuffed with adverts which play as you scroll down the article, giving them a side earning, as well as giving the site an overall boost in terms of SEO. If you look at the Mail Online web page, you will notice that the side bar is chock full of sensationalist articles which induce you to keep clicking and keep remaining within the site. But first of all a hook is needed, which is where a sensationalist health article comes in.

The sensationalist article takes the slightest tenuous link between facts and links them to form fiction which you would not normally read. As I have said before, this is how it works: A shark swims. A whale swims. The Mail Online then says a shark is a whale.

So the Mail Online (and no other newspaper, it must be mentioned), based its article on a University of Adelaide study of just 152 participants which stated that after stopping exercise, participants started to feel depressed.

First of all, if you haven’t guessed by now, I refute the claims. Of course, when you have made a plan to exercise and end up not doing so, you feel guilty, but not depressed – that would be taking the guilt symptoms too far.

Secondly, the biggest group of participants in any study was 40 – and the total from all six studies that the university referred to was 152.

There were also other anamolies reported. Some participants had guilt in the second week but not the first. It is not clear if any of the participants had depression in the first place, but it is likely the Mail Online substituted “guilt” with the more extreme “depression”.

Let’s use a bit of common sense. If you lead a fairly active lifestyle, exercising three times a week for about 1.5 hours in total, and then you stop for an extended period, you are likely to feel you should be exercising but are not, and this disconnect will trigger guilt within you – not depression. It is even arguable that any depressive symptoms you feel will be alleviated when you return to exercise, not because of any physical benefit, but more because your guilt will dissipate with the ticking off of the mental checklist.

But at least it sells papers or web traffic, and that is all what some publications are about. As long as there is enough padding to mask the business end of the publication, the selling of adverts, then it appears publications can make the news up.

The quest for fitness may be detrimental to your long term mental state

We are often told how we should aim to have, and maintain, a healthy lifestyle. After all, being physically fit allows your body to function both in physical and mental aspects. Healthy body, healthy mind, right?

The only difficulty, if you can call it that, with exercise is that the first thing that we would normally consider is running, but it is not for everyone. Going forward for a certain distance or time has little meaning for some people, especially children.

The thing about running is that it has to have some appreciable meaning, so unless you have some derivative inner joy of measuring your progress using statistics, it is unlikely to hold your interest for the long term. A better form of exercise is though group sports, as the mental boredom of tracking fitness levels is negated in favour of the social dynamic.

Common group sports such as football¬† have a large following in England. The football season for example lasts from August to May and provides a welcome distraction during the cold winter months. It is also a simple game that can be improvised using other materials and played on all surfaces. No goalposts? Use bags or some other markers. No football? Use a tennis ball. It is often interesting to see children turn up at a field, establish the boundaries of play using trees and creates goalposts using caps or other loose materials and these are often sufficient for the game; at least until there is discussion about whether the “ball” hit the post or went in the goal after it flies over a set of keys intended to represent the goalpost.

There is increasing concern about the link between dementia and football. The pounding of the ball against a soft surface of the brain, when the ball is headed, over time can cause the destruction of cells and cell function. This is of particular concern in the case of children, whose brains and bodies are developing. This has been of significant interest as members of England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad have found to have developed dementia in their later years. Some of them cannot even remember being there in 1966!

It is not just the impact of ball on head that is concerning, but when the head is moved through a range of motion too quickly. Even though there is no impact on the head externally, internally there is damage as the brain is hitting the sides of the skull supposed to protect it.

It is not just football that we have to be concerned about. There is plenty of head and neck related impact in rugby and American football. In fact, in American football, the head related injuries for offensive and defensive linemen, who every forty seconds start a play by ramming into the player on the opposite side of the line,  and the list of dementia sufferers is growing continually. Some players have even sued the NFL for injuries suffered during the game.

Will the rules of football change so that heading the ball is banned? Don’t bet on it. That would change the fabric of the game so much as to ruin it. When the ball is swung in from a corner, what would you do if you couldn’t head it? The game will not change, but also don’t rule out a consortium of players in the future filing lawsuits for work-related injuries. Perhaps in the pursuit of fitness, it may be wiser to choose less impactful activities for the sake of long term health.