Tag Archives: depression

Our proud Pilates Community; we are stronger together

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Usually in my blog I try to bring a more light-hearted look to Pilates and health. I was going to write today about Pilates in Russia following my latest visit. But if you have been reading my articles over the past months you will see that I have a big interest in the issues of mental health and depression and their link to physical exercise. I do not seek controversy, but I am not afraid to talk about the topics that some people would rather ignore. I could write interesting articles about Shoulder Bridge, but I leave such articles to other people.

I lost my father to Alzheimer’s (see my blog “I lost my father, don’t lose yours” and I have also talked about depression and the link between mental and physical health in several previous articles. So it was with great sadness that over the weekend I read about the suicide of a 34 year-old Pilates teacher in New York last week, who jumped from her Upper West Side building.  My deepest and sincere condolences to her family and friends. I am sure that some people reading this article will know the lady in question, so I hope you will forgive me for writing about this tragic event.

There are suggestions about incurable disease and mental health issues. I have personal experience of the dark places that can lead people to depression and even suicide. I lost a close friend many years ago and I found it very difficult to understand how I did not see the signs. But the truth is that as teachers we are performers, so most of us have a great “game face” that we switch on during those times when we would rather be anywhere else than standing smiling in front of a group of people. As much as we all love Pilates and bringing our knowledge to the communities that we live in, we are human as well, so we have difficult situations to deal with and we are allowed to be sad sometimes. “The show must go on” is an old cliché but it has a lot of relevance for many people every day.

I love being a Pilates teacher, and I love helping people to change their lives (it is important to remember that we do not change people’s lives, we simply give people the knowledge and belief so that they can change their own lives). I also love the Pilates community. Sure, people criticize me and the things that I write in my blogs sometimes, and of course I do not and cannot expect everyone to always agree with my point of view. And there are also always people in every walk of life who try to make a name for themselves by being negative as they find it easier to criticize than praise. But everywhere I travel from Russia to the US, and every Pilates forum and group I am a member of,  I always have a strong sense of community, a sense that the vast majority of Pilates professionals want only to help each other, want to share their knowledge and experience.

It is for this reason that I love our community, and I always try to give more than I receive. It is also for this reason that I created Pilates Carnival, conventions that give all profits to children’s charities and where I ask everyone including the presenters (and of course me) to work for no money, donating their time and energy for the good of our community. Of course some presenters are horrified with this thought and I have been accused of cheapening Pilates and devaluing the system. Whilst I always respect the opinions of other people, I think these people simply do not get it. They are so commercially orientated they fail to see that by promoting themselves and Pilates in an environment that benefits charities as well, they are creating a positive energy that no money can buy. And of course it is not rocket science for these people to realise that if you do a Pilates convention for charity attended by over 100 Pilates teachers/studio owners and hundred’s of member’s of the public, you might just get some good exposure and new clients from the experience. But I respect their life choices, thank them for their time, and I simply do not work with them because they are not “my type” of people.

But I am happy that the majority of Pilates people are my type, they give more than they take, love much more than they hate. To paraphrase Lennon and McCartney, in the end the love we save is equal to the love we gave. So let’s keep supporting each other, looking after each other and looking out for each other. Most things in life are more important than money or reputation. Much more important.

In the U.S.: If you are contemplating attempting suicide, there are people who can help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

In the U.K.: For confidential support call the Samaritans  on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch

Chris is an international Pilates presenter and educator based in Barcelona, Spain. He is the creator of Pilates EVO©, bodyFUNC©, and CEO of Pilates Rehab Limited and Sport Core Strength.  He also organises Pilates Carnival and Fitness Carnival, conventions where all profits go to local children’s charities. For more information about Pilates with Chris in Barcelona, please click on Barcelona Bienestar. To learn more about Chris, please read Just who is Chris Hunt anyway?

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Exercise is only one part of “Total Fitness”

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Regular readers of my blog will know that I have written before about Alzheimer’s and mental conditions, as this is a very personal issue for me (see Dementia: I lost my father, don’t lose yours, Mental health and exercise and Let’s talk about depression).

So as a fitness professional and a Pilates and functional training presenter,  I am very interested by studies that link exercise with mental health and brain function, and I am convinced that this link exists and should influence us as trainers and the public in general.

All Pilates teachers will be very familiar with the mind and body link, but in my opinion every trainer should also consider this. I am  happy to report to you about a recent study in the US that suggests that aerobic exercise in your 20s may protect the brain in middle age. Activities that maintain cardio fitness such as running, swimming and cycling, led to better thinking skills and memory 20 years on.

Scientists say the research adds to evidence the brain benefits from good heart health. As fitness professionals will know, cardio fitness is a measure of how well the body absorbs oxygen during exercise and transports it to the muscles. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, tested almost 3,000 healthy people with an average age of 25. They underwent treadmill tests of cardiovascular fitness during the first year of the study and again 20 years later. They were asked to run for as long as possible before they became exhausted or short of breath.

Cognitive tests taken 25 years after the start of the study measured memory and thinking skills. People who ran for longer on the treadmill performed better at tests of memory and thinking skills 25 years on, even after adjusting for factors such as smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol. People who had smaller time differences in their treadmill test 20 years later were more likely to perform better on the executive function test than those who had bigger differences.

“Many studies show the benefits to the brain of good heart health,” said study author Dr David Jacobs. “This is one more important study that should remind young adults of the brain health benefits of cardio fitness activities such as running, swimming, biking or cardio fitness classes.” Dr Jacobs said a concept was emerging of total fitness, incorporating social, physical and mental aspects of health. “It’s really a total package of how your body is and the linkage of that entire package of performance – that’s related to cognitive function many years later and in mid-life,”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “A growing body of evidence suggests exercise may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and much research has shown a link between healthy habits in mid-life and better health in old age. Investment in research is vital to better understand how we can protect our brains as we age.”

So this information, taken in conjunction with previous studies detailed in my previous blogs, continues to add weight to the body of evidence that suggests our physical and our mental state are inextricably linked. The concept of “total fitness”, meaning that all trainers should be thinking about advising their clients of the social and mental aspects of their health as well as the physical aspects, is something that I incorporated into my Pilates EVO© and my bodyFUNC© systems several years ago.

If we want to get the best results for our clients, and give the best possible service, it is not enough to simply give them a training problem for their gym sessions. Our advice must go much further and much deeper.

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Bradley Cooper, Mental Health & Exercise

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Dementia and mental illness are not the most common subjects of Hollywood Blockbusters, but their have been some notable exceptions, for example the excellent performance of Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook depicting someone with Bipolar Disorder.

As a fitness professional and as someone who lost my father to dementia (I wrote in a previous blog, “Dementia: I lost my father, don’t lose yours” about my very personal experience with Alzheimer’s disease) the link between exercise and diet is one that really interests me.

Since my last blog on this topic then, there has been new evidence linking diet and exercise to the avoidance of dementia, an illness that is reaching epidemic proportions in our aging population.

A recent study by the University of California has concluded that high levels of “bad” cholesterol are linked to the presence of abnormal brain proteins that are seen in Alzheimer’s disease. Whereas previous studies have linked high cholesterol to Alzheimer’s, this is the first direct link between cholesterol levels in the blood to the concentration of amyloid plaques, the hallmark of this degenerative disease, in the brains of living patients.

The study reached the conclusion that whilst effects were small to moderate, over a prolonged period they can make a significant difference in reducing the prevalence of Alzheimer’s. Eating foods such as lentils, garlic, oily fish and avocados, and avoided saturated fats can help to lower “bad” cholesterol levels.

Another study reported in the US at the University of Pittsburgh concluded that physical exercise is as important in reducing the risk of dementia as keeping the mind active. By simply taking a brisk walk three of four times a week can effectively grow back the brain. The study involved 120 people aged 60 to 80. Half of the group had a brisk walk for 30 to 45 minutes three to four times a week. The other half only did light stretching exercises. After the 12 month test period, cognitive tests and MRI scans showed that the group who walked had a 2% growth of their hippocampus region of the brain, the part that is crucial for memory, and a similar growth in the pre-frontal cortex, the area involved in decision making and social behaviour. By contrast, the people in the other group showed a reduction in brain size which is in keeping with the “expected” rate of decline in the elderly.

It is not clear yet exactly how exercising can make the brain grow and improve brain function, but it is possible that the increase in blood flow improves the oxygen supply to the brain. Another possibility is that exercise encourages growth genes to trigger new connections between neurons.

Neural plasticity is a growing area of interest to science, and studies such as this one clearly show that the brain is able to grow well into old age, and that the “inevitable” decline in function is not as inevitable as was once thought.

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Depression Part 2: Positive thinking

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Yesterday I published Part One of my blog about depression. As promised, here is Part Two.

I said yesterday that I am a fitness professional, I do not pretend or try to be an expert in everything I write. But I do mean everything I write.

I want today to talk about staying positive. We live in troubled times. How can we stay positive and deal with negative thoughts? Here are some ideas that you can try.

1) The first thing to realize is that negative feelings and emotions can’t be stopped, they arrive without invitation and that’s natural.  Everyone feels down sometimes as it’s the normal ebb and flow of our physiology.

2) While you can’t control what type of negative emotions show up, you can control your reaction. You have a choice.

3) A negative emotion loves a negative thought, the more negative and dark the better. The two can then conjure up negative images, creating an unholy trinity. This barrage of negativity can trigger hopelessness.

4) We start to believe our circumstances can’t change, that we will never find happiness, and everything looks bleak. Hopeless individuals can’t see the opportunities, only the failure and disappointments of yesterday. A vicious circle begins, with negative emotions causing negative actions, which cause more negative emotions. We start to act and talk negatively.

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So, how do we stop it? At Number 2. A negative emotion is normal and can be connected to an event such as a relationship breakdown or loss of a job. You can’t and shouldn’t run from it. But, you should take charge of your thoughts and prevent yourself from thinking and seeing negative images.

First acknowledge if something negative happened. You can’t delude yourself. If you lost your job you’ll feel terrible, but if you begin to think that you are a loser and see yourself as becoming homeless, you are going way too far. The emotions can’t be stopped, but this is how you stop and take charge of a negative thought before it goes further:

1. Stop or interrupt the negative thought (it’s your mind, you can change it) even if you have to say “Stop” out loud. You might get some strange glances but who cares?!

2. Challenge the thought. Ask yourself, “is this really true, is it realistic to think like this?” Most of the time you will realise what you are    thinking is not the truth or not realistic.

3. Change the thought by choosing a more realistic one. If you lose your job and think, “Oh no, my life is over,” change it to “This is a big setback for my life” or “I’m faced with a significant challenge.” If you feel rejected after a breakup, don’t think “my life is over; I will never find someone again.” Stop it, challenge it, and change it to “I’ve had a loss and it hurts, but I will get through this.”

4. Change the image connected with the negative thought. We think in images; for every thought we create images. If you fall prey to hopeless and despondent thoughts you will begin to see yourself in that position. Instead, choose another image of hope, the most   powerful of all emotions. Everything that’s   accomplished is based on hope. Give yourself hope, then you have the ability to accomplish any goal as long as you follow through.

5. Choose your behaviour, and act positively and proactively. Instead of isolating or mixing with other hopeless people, decide upon at least three positive and proactive things you can do every day, and then do them.

6. Be thankful for all the good things you have in your life. Stop worrying about things you don’t have. Write down things you have to be thankful for. You may be surprised. The key is to stop the vicious cycle of hopelessness    before it becomes a pattern and forms a stronghold in your life. You have the power to stop and change your mind. That is the wonderful thing about your mind.

Now, think about this. The only moment in which we can truly be happy is the present moment. The only moment that we have control of is the present moment. So let go of negative thoughts, and be happy now!

Because if not now, then when?

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Let’s talk about depression… Part 1: Is it real?

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One of my aims for this bog is not to write all pretty and happy articles, but to try to talk about real issues however uncomfortable or taboo they are. I am a fitness professional, so I am not an expert on all the topics I talk about, but what I say comes from my heart.

So, the “season to be jolly” is fading fast. But the sad fact is that this time of year is also a desperate time for many people. I wrote recently about dementia (see my blog “I lost my father, don’t lose yours”) and how it is still for many people a taboo subject, whilst for many other it is totally misunderstood. The same could be said about depression, so let’s try to blow the lid on that as well.

It’s been reported recently that as many as three quarters of a million young people in the UK may feel that they have nothing to live for. A study for the Prince’s Trust charity says almost a third of long-term unemployed young people have contemplated taking their own lives.

The Prince’s Trust Macquarie Youth Index was based on interviews with 2,161 16 to 25-year-olds. The report found 9% of all respondents agreed with the statement: “I have nothing to live for” and said if 9% of all youngsters felt the same, it would equate to some 751,230 young people feeling they had nothing to live for. The research found that long-term unemployed young people were more than twice as likely as their peers to have been prescribed anti-depressants.  One in three (32%) had contemplated suicide, while one in four (24%) had self-harmed. The report found 40% of jobless young people had faced symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks, as a direct result of unemployment. Three quarters of long-term unemployed young people (72%) did not have someone to confide in, the study found.

I talked from personal experience about dementia having lost my father to the disease. I can also talk from some personal experience of depression, as I have several family members and friends who have in the past suffered from this debilitating illness.

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First and most important, no one should be ashamed or embarrassed to be talking about depression. If you think worse of anyone who has or is suffering from depression, then with respect this really is your problem, and you should definitely read on! If you still think that depression is just an excuse to stay in bed and be lazy, a pathetic reason to feel sorry for yourself and wallow in self-pity, and that people who say they have depression should “man-up”, pull themselves together and stop feeling sorry for themselves, then again, please read this blog. It might make you begin to realise that you are totally wrong. In fact hopelessly wrong.

I do have sympathy for people who do not understand depression because it is difficult to empathise with something you have never suffered from. I mean, how can it be a real illness when you cannot see it? So let’s get one thing clear from the start. It is an illness. A real, bonafide illness that can be clinically proven. At its worst, it is as totally debilitating as any physical illness, making what most people consider a “normal” life impossible.

The worst thing you can say to someone suffering from depression is to “pull themselves together”, “stop being so pathetic”, “stand up for yourself”, “snap out of it”, and many other nuggets of similar ignorance that I have heard in the past. Why is this such a bad approach? It’s simple if you stop to think. Most people who are depressed already feel useless and hopeless. For you to point out and confirm that fact to them only reinforces their negative self-belief. It makes them feel even more inadequate because they know they are incapable of doing any of those things for them self however much they want to.

The roots of depression are varied, and it’s not my intention here to go into details as to causes. What I want to do is get people talking and thinking. And to stress that people suffering from depression need your support, not your judgement or criticism. It’s not easy not to judge, not to have a holier than thou attitude. In fact I think it’s the mark of a real man who does not judge, who can offer a hand of support and understanding.

As a fitness professional, I cannot stress enough the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise to help deal with many mental and physical issues. As my dementia article pointed out, there is a proven link that what’s good for your body is also good for your brain. By exercising regularly and eating healthily, many people can really improve their physical and mental condition. But this is not always the only answer, sometimes people need professional help.

My experience of depression was one of the reasons that led me to discover meditation, and I thoroughly recommend this to everyone whether you are suffering from depression or not. It doesn’t require hours of sitting in the lotus position either. 20 minutes a day is a good start.  As the saying goes, if you do not have enough time to do 20 minutes meditation, then no problem, do 30 minutes. 🙂

If you know someone who is suffering from depression, don’t judge or offer them advice. They don’t need that and it doesn’t help. They need your understanding and support. Question is, can you give them only that?

In tomorrow’s blog I will give you some ways to deal with negative thoughts, and ways to try to stay positive. So, see you tomorrow.

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Dementia. I lost my father, don’t lose yours

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This is a very personal and difficult blog for me to write, but one that I really want to share with you all. No pictures, just my honest, heart-felt story.

Dementia, even in 2013, is still a dirty word to many people and misunderstood by many others. It “remains one of the last bastions of stigma and fear when it comes to illness” as the UK health secretary very succinctly put it. This week in the UK press there has been a lot of headlines about it as David Cameron headed a G8 conference on the subject on Wednesday the 11th December. The result of this was that the G8 pledged that they would find a cure by 2025, treating it in the same was as HIV/Aids and cancer

My story is a typical one, nothing special when dealing with this terrible disease. My father started showing symptoms a few years ago. The usual forgetfulness and unusual behaviour. The disease soon progressed to the point where he didn’t recognise me. This thought still makes me cry to this day. If you want to understand what dementia can do, try imagining one of your parents looking at you like a stranger, and worse with mistrust and even fear in their eyes. I witnessed my father not only lose his mental capacity, but also his dignity. The care he received from one of the UK’s so-called leading healthcare providers was a disgrace and only made the whole situation worse. The night my father passed away, I had a horrible dream. I woke up with a sick feeling in my stomach to find that I had slept through a call from the hospital telling me I should get to his bedside immediately as he wouldn’t make it through the night. I will regret missing that call for the rest of my life, but maybe it saved me the pain of seeing him pass away. I can instead remember saying good night to him the night before and kissing him on his forehead as he was in a peaceful, drug-induced sleep.

Labelled the 21st Century Plague, dementia is going to become part of more and more people’s lives. About 800,000 people in Britain currently suffer from it, and this figure is predicted to double by 2050, with cases around the world projected to triple to 135 million by the same date. Currently, there is no cure with health services only able to try to help people live with their disease rather than cure it. This makes it all the more important to reduce the risks of developing it in the first place. Research is increasingly showing that five key components of healthy lifestyle can ward off a range of conditions including heart disease, diabetes and dementia. A recent 35 year study found more evidence to confirm this. So what are the five key components?

1) Regular exercise
2) Eating fruit and vegetables
3) Staying slim
4) Light drinking
5) Not smoking

So not rocket science then, and something that everyone can do. As Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society said “we have known for some time that what is good for your heart is also good for your head….. healthy living could significantly reduce the chances of developing dementia”.

I still cry when I think back to what happened to my father. Whilst the world’s leading countries have finally woken up to this global issue (some cynics might say their attitude has been clarified by the threat of enormous costs associated with treating sufferers), by taking five simple steps, we can all help to reduce the risk of my story becoming your story, or your children’s story. Trust me, however difficult you might think those five steps are, the alternative could be ultimately worse.

Here are some links to recent articles I have written about the connection between mental and physical health, and about depression. New studies are confirming the links every week.

https://thechrishuntblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/exercise-is-only-one-part-of-total-fitness/

https://thechrishuntblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/bradley-cooper-mental-health-exercise/

https://thechrishuntblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/lets-talk-about-depression-part-1-is-it-real/

https://thechrishuntblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/depression-part-2-positive-thinking/