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Exercise helps with more than physical health

Exercise helps with more than physical health

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About a month ago, Emily Fall hired a personal trainer and got serious about a regular exercise program.

Fall, 26, of Davenport, had twin baby boys six months ago, and some of the extra weight she gained during pregnancy had stayed with her.

Throughout her school years in Bettendorf and during college at the University of Iowa, she took dance lessons and performed on school dance team. She was thus unaccustomed to having to set time aside to exercise for her health.

Fall, the daughter of Joe and Ann Slavens of Bettendorf, is also aware that a regular fitness routine helps her to manage depression. She was diagnosed with the mental health condition when she first moved away from home to attend college.

As a four-year contestant in the Miss Iowa Scholarship Program, she has been open to speaking in public about about her diagnosis. For example, she used her platform in the Miss Iowa competition to not only talk about depression, but also how it impacts families.

"Nothing is nearer, or dearer, to my heart than speaking on this topic," said Fall, who teaches first grade in the Bettendorf School District.

Mental health conditions such as depression need to be openly discussed in today's society, she said, adding, "There's still such a stigma." 

Enjoys exercise,

just not on treadmills

Fall danced her whole life, up to five hours a day during her college years. But she hates to rely on exercise equipment such as treadmills, so she hired a trainer, Dan Wright of Wrightway Personal Training, Bettendorf.

"I really now pay someone to help me work out," Fall said, adding that she appreciates Wright's approach. In fact, she has come to look forward to the workouts as her personal time during very busy days.

According to the Mayo Clinic, increasing evidence shows that exercise can ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Depression is linked to very low levels of certain neurotransmitters, or chemicals in the brain, that allow the nerves to communicate with each other.

The brain's chemical imbalance 

Individuals who have less norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin in their brain than normal therefore have less nerve stimulation. That contributes to feelings of sadness and emptiness, loss of interest in normal activities, tiredness, anxiety and trouble thinking, the Mayo Clinic reported in the April edition of its monthly Health Letter.

While antidepressants work by increasing the levels of those chemicals to normal levels, exercise does the same thing. In addition, new evidence shows that exercise sets in motion changes that protect the brain against the damaging effects of stress, and it provides enhanced resilience against depression.

Fall takes medications to manage her condition, but regular exercise makes a positive difference.

"I kind of crave that time at the gym, and I have seen a difference in my life. It's not a fix by any means," she said, "but I do think it's helped.

"It's now part of my routine, and I do need to live with routine," she explained. But as she also pointed out, the effects of regular exercise have to be felt individually.

"Scientifically, we know it helps. But this is something you have to experience yourself," she said.

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