It is no secret that cancer impacts every single aspect of your life. Physically, financially, spiritually, and psychologically….Nothing is left untouched when you walk through a cancer diagnosis.
Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to learn that the prevalence of depression among people with cancer is high. Even among those with no previous psychiatric history – the fear, anxiety, and impact to quality of life has a wide-ranging and devastating impact on mental health.
In fact, approximately 25% of cancer patients experience clinically-significant feelings of depression, compared to only 6.7% of the general population.
In many circumstances, experiencing depression during cancer treatment can negatively impact a patient’s overall health. At a minimum, it can make it more difficult to complete their treatment plan. In severe circumstances, it can interfere with the ability of the patient to carry out their day-to-day activities.
Fortunately, research conducted by our team and a host of others shows that regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medications in the treatment of depression.
There are a variety of underlying mechanisms to this.
For starters, and to quote one of my all-time favorite movies, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy!” (Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde).
And it’s true! Endorphins improve your mood and interact with brain receptors to reduce aches and pains – a common symptom of depression and cancer treatments.
In addition, exercise causes increased levels of blood and oxygen to your brain during physical activity, which increases feelings of optimism and focus.
Additionally, scientists have discovered that many depression sufferers have a smaller hippocampus, which is an area of the brain that helps regulate mood. Regular physical activity causes cell growth and connection in the brain, leading to a larger – and happier hippocampus!
Last, but certainly not least, exercise is a great way to release stress, distract your mind, and connect with others, leading to a better quality of life! In fact, a study we conducted last year revealed a 48% decrease in symptoms of depression following a 12-week exercise program during chemotherapy. In other words, our patients were 48% happier at the completion of their chemo than they were at the start of their chemo! That is no small potatoes, especially when you think of the toll chemotherapy takes on your body!!
If you have recently been diagnosed with cancer and are struggling with depression, starting an exercise program might seem like the very last thing you want to do. We get it.
Our suggestion to you is to start small. Remember, something is always better than nothing. In fact, a recent study found that even one hour of exercise per week can help alleviate depression! Specifically, inactive people had 44% higher rates of depression than those who exercised one to two hours per week.
If you are looking for some help getting started, remember that all of our online programs are free of charge and can give you the motivation you need! At Maple Tree, we want nothing more than to see you THRIVE through your cancer!