Holistic Nutrition & Prevention

The unexplored cause of depression, anxiety

By Sari Huhtala

There’s a reason why the Old Order Amish communities are not plagued by depression and anxiety like the 621 million plus people globally who currently are – and it may not be so obvious as living a simple lifestyle and eating wholesome, real food.

Since COVID-19 lockdowns and masking began in 2020, the world has witnessed a jump in anxiety and depression by 25 per cent and 28 per cent respectively, according to an article in the Lancet. Between 2002 and 2015 the use of benzodiazepines – anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax, Ativan and Valium, jumped by 67 per cent. In 2020, pharmaceutical companies boasted a 34 per cent increase in the use of anti-anxiety drugs, according to Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management company.

Not surprising. When the Province of Ontario issued a stay-at-home order in 2020, media outlets painted a pretty picture of life on the couch while waiting it out – Doritos, Netflix and all. Cut off from outlets for physical activity – everything from organized sports, fitness clubs, dance classes to parks that were cordoned off by bold yellow caution tape to prevent children from climbing and sliding – most people just waited it out. They joined the ranks of the 48 per cent of Canadians over age 12 who were already physically inactive, and the 86 per cent of Americans who were inactive, according to StatsCan and the WHO.

Exercise prescription for depression and anxiety has its merits, studies show. A 2005 study, which appeared in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, found patients with depression experienced a 47 per cent decrease in depressive symptoms after walking 19 km a week for 12 weeks. Another study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found a 47 per cent decrease in symptoms of major depressive disorder can be achieved by walking 30 minutes a day for 10 days. The same results can be found in studies on patients with anxiety.

The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services concluded, in 2008, that individuals who are not physically active are 45 per cent more likely to experience symptoms of depression than those who are active.

Furthermore, a Prospective 2010 Study in BMC Medicine declared, after taking into account other risk factors for depression, like alcohol, smoking, etc., that 22 per cent of cases of depression are directly caused by physical inactivity.

It’s no coincidence that, as physical activity levels plummet, anxiety and depression rates climb, but there’s more to this than meets the eye, according to Liane Norman, pediatric and orthopedic physiotherapist, and co-owner of On the Ball Pediatric Physio and Occupational Therapy in Ottawa, ON.

“The most important sensory system, the king of all systems, is the vestibular system, and it needs movement to be stimulated and strengthened.  It is located in your inner ear,” Norman states.

“Your vestibular system also works closely with your eyes, and together they communicate to the brain the information needed to maintain balance. If the vestibular system is not processing information correctly, this has a direct impact on mental and physical well being. “

“The brain needs to be in full control of the body or else it goes in fight or flight very quickly when it can’t figure out how to keep the body up against gravity. This is a survival mechanism rooted in our biology. “

“How does this link to social and emotional development? In order to connect with others, we need to be well connected to our bodies. We need to feel safe in our own bodies. If your core muscles are weak, or if your vestibular system is not doing its job properly to let the brain know what it needs to not fall over against gravity and get hurt, then all of your energy is spent trying not to fall over. Socializing is not a priority; it will actually be very exhausting. “   

How does the Amish community stack up against the average Canadian when it comes to activity levels? Well, according to a 2004 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Amish men typically spend 10 hours a week doing vigorous activity, 43 hours a week doing moderate physical activity and 12 hours a week walking. Women spend an average of 3 hours a week doing vigorous activity, 40 hours a week doing moderate physical activity and six hours a week walking.

Small wonder depression and anxiety isn’t plaguing Amish communities. Time to get off the couch, Canadians. Just move. Your brain will thank you for it.

Sari Huhtala is the publisher and editor of Alive and Fit Magazine. She has over 25 years experience in journalism, and is a mother of 3 adult children. She has spent over 20 years navigating a healthy path for her family, one health hack at a time, as a single mom feeding her kids healthy on a shoestring budget. She has over 15 years experience as a certified fitness specialist and personal trainer and 10 years experience as a reiki practitioner.

Photo credit: ©[ By Kontrec] via Canva

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