Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Nurture Your Body, Liberate Your Mind

1001 Books To Read Before Your Kindle Battery Dies, Part 49
Stephen S. Ilardi, PhD,The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs

Diagnosable clinical depression isn’t equally distributed worldwide; Americans and other industrialized nation citizens suffer far higher rates than poorer nations. University of Kansas psychologist Stephen Ilardi and his research team discovered that modern life has cultivated certain behaviors that crush people’s psyches. But for most people, antidepressant medications don’t work any better than Doctor Time.

Human beings, Dr. Ilardi writes, aren’t adapted to modern life’s sedentary, indoor conditions. Though we believe we’ve conquered nature’s limitations with our technology and social sciences, our bodies and brains remain optimized for hunter-gatherer conditions. So Ilardi began research into what he calls Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC), a permanent, lasting cure for clinical depression involving six uncomplicated steps:
  1. Supplementing dietary levels of Omega-3 fatty acids
  2. Engaging in meaningful activity
  3. Getting sufficient physical exercise
  4. Getting sufficient sunlight
  5. Spending time around people we like and engage with
  6. Getting enough sleep
Really, that’s it. Well, it’s actually more complicated, with specific recommendations to not only improve our living conditions, but also to proactively prevent depression from recurring, or from hitting in the first place. This is important, because depression has a higher relapse rate than virtually any physical ailment. Yet by following a lifestyle of healthy, balanced choices, we an control our vulnerability to this debilitating illness.

Dr. Ilardi strikes a satisfying balance between solid science and practical suggestions. Too many First World citizens work seated, spend spare time alone, and eat lopsided diets. The luxuries we enjoy, which our ancestors never envisioned, have made us less happy, less healthy, and less properly disposed to handle life’s little setbacks and disappointments.But neither, he writes, can we chuck everything and hunt wildebeest on the Serengeti.

Stephen S. Ilardi, PhD
Thankfully we don’t have to. Ilardi’s TLC program requires a modest investment of effort and time, often less than one hour daily, to recapture the wild conditions for which we’re still perfectly adapted. One needn’t spend hours at the gym for sufficient exercise; a brisk thirty-minute walk three times weekly can get our hearts moving robustly. And those stresses keeping you from sleeping? They’ll feel more manageable if you’ve gotten your eight hours.

Some suggestions seem obvious once Ilardi says them aloud. It only makes sense that we suffer depressed mood and stunted brain function when we spend time on meaningless activities, or when we’re chronically lonely. As Ilardi notes, the only population group that hasn’t seen massive increases in diagnosable depression in the last hundred years is the Amish, a population who works together, mostly outdoors.

Other suggestions require more explanation, which Ilardi helpfully provides. We’ve become so accustomed to considering fats just bad that, when he says we need more Omega-3, many readers, including me, may feel baffled. Yet Ilardi explains, not only what Omega-3 fatty acids are, and why we need them more than the common Omega-6 variety, but also what a balanced diet means in terms of human evolutionary imperatives.

Ilardi also discusses the importance of motivation for any meaningful change. Exercise in particular will require some incentive, because humans are attuned to avoid unnecessary, inefficient effort. But if we roll things together—exercise as opportunity to spend time with friends, for instance, or discovering a hobby that involves deep muscular effort—we can extract maximum benefits from separate, individual activities.

This isn’t some mere list of pointers, moreover. After walking us through his six steps, including explaining how and why each works, Ilardi provides a graduated twelve-week approach to incorporating his TLC into regular life. This includes not only adding his six steps, but also documenting your symptoms according to an objective scale, and keeping good records. You and your doctor should find his measurement scale very helpful.

Dr. Ilardi stresses, early on, that nobody should undertake any lifestyle change, even his, without consulting a doctor first. Depression can stem from physical ailments, which your doctor should exclude first; and rapid lifestyle changes, like aerobic exercise and dietary supplements, carry risks which you and your doctor can minimize. So don’t just grab Ilardi’s book and run. And certainly don’t base lifestyle changes on one 750-word book review.

Though Dr. Ilardi talks up TLC for clinical depression, he stresses that this isn’t only for people with mood disorders. His techniques improve general health, including heart health, and also improve general mutual accountability. His steps are straightforward, manageable, and fun. Since half of all Americans will face major mood disorders, and TLC can prevent as well as cure, this approach is truly for everyone.

1 comment:

  1. If I may be so bold as to recommend an important edit. He makes it clear in the book that people who are in the midst of a depressive episode will absolutely need someone who isn't to help them implement these changes, to be their "frontal cortices" so to speak, to schedule times and show up at their door for daily walks together, to help them get to the store to get the Omega 3's, and really be an active helper. These changes really are too difficult for someone undergoing the physiologic/psychological (not that these really are separate) stresses of depression to be able to make on their own.