Ready, Set, Run! Combat Depression with Regular Exercise

Imagine going to the doctor with symptoms of depression and she hands you a new prescription: Do two sets of squats, 15 bicep curls, 10 laps around the track and call me in the morning. Though this is not (yet) an accurate picture, experts are starting to recognize that regular exercise is not only good for your mood but may help combat depression, too. Until physicians and other healthcare providers universally prescribe exercise as an alternative treatment for depression, it’s best to turn to a group of professionals who are already in the know: physical therapists.

PTs are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health illnesses like depression and understand how the disorder can interfere with a person’s ability to enjoy life. An individualized care plan starts with a thorough assessment and detailed patient history so the PT can capture the limitations of the illness and understand the goals the patient would like to achieve. Each custom treatment plan includes some combination of flexibility, strength, coordination and balance exercises designed to achieve optimal physical function and to help shed the layers of depression. For patients suffering from depression, it can be stressful and overwhelming to think about incorporating exercise into their lives either for the first time or after a long hiatus. Because the illness’ symptoms often include fatigue and loss of interest in activities, it can be difficult for patients to take that first step, both literally and figuratively. But physical therapists excel in motivating patients to perform exercises both safely and effectively. In fact, another bonus of seeing a physical therapist to get started on a new exercise program, is that he’s trained to identify other injuries or illnesses that require a special approach.

You don’t have to have depression to reap the benefits of exercise. In fact, the mood-boosting pastime can help anyone who might be temporarily sad or otherwise not themselves. Major life stressors—divorce, loss of a job, and death—are difficult for anyone and regular exercise is a great way to help people through a tough time. With regular exercise, you’re guaranteed to see improvements in the following areas: • Strength and flexibility • Sleep • Memory • Self-confidence • Energy • Mood Even minimal changes in any of these areas could change your outlook on the day and your ability to participate in activities you once enjoyed. So, what are you waiting for?

Cross Training During Injury: An important part of recovery!

Cross-training while recovering from injury is not only an effective way to maintain your fitness, but it forms an important part of the rehab process. That being said, it can also aggravate symptoms, so how should you cross-train when you are injured, and what things should you avoid?

There is minimal information out there that recommends specific forms of cross-training that should be used with specific injuries. My recommendations come from seeing what types of activities aggravate certain injuries, and what activities are usually well tolerated. There are also a set of guidelines that can help you determine what is best, as no 2 injuries are the same. 

During injury or shortly after, the right amount of exercise can actually help to stimulate healing and recovery due to the increased blood flow and movement in the muscles/joints. For example, if you are a runner, try and keep up with some running but adapt it to a comfortable level - this is much better than stopping entirely. Your goal is to be able to continue with the irritating activity, so stopping completely may cause more pain when you return, and the injury might just come back. It's best to promote healing and recovery while still participating in your "goal activity." Obviously, some injuries do require a period of complete rest (ie. stress fractures or very acute tendon pain.) A pain scale is a useful guide: 

When running or cross-training keep pain to a minimum. It should be less than 3 out of 10 during activity with little to no reaction the next day. If it does react, you've probably over-done it, but that's ok! Now you know your limits, so try a little less next time. 

Running and cross-training isn't about dos and don'ts. We aren't creating a list of things people can't do - just a guide to help and be aware of some activities that may be beneficial in small, manageable amounts. This is important because when people avoid certain activities/movements, they can be hard to get back into. Also, its easy to assume we avoid them because the activities are harmful, but they aren't! 

Be guided mostly by symptoms and pain, as not all injuries will be aggravated by the usually provocative activities - these recommendations are just a guide. See how you respond to the cross-training and progress from there. Consult your PT for a rehab program that is specific to your needs. 


In tendon injuries such as achilles tendinopathy and hamstring strains/tendinopathy, symptoms are often aggravated when the tendon is required to store and release energy quickly. This happens during running and other plyometric activities like jumping, hopping, etc. There isn’t usually this quick stretch/shorten during cycling, normal walking, or slow resistance training. In fact, heavy, slow resistance training is an important part of rehab for tendinopathy.

PFPS (Runner's Knee) symptoms are usually aggravated by activities with high levels of load on the patellofemoral joint, especially with the knee goes past the toes. Also, knee extension machines are most certainly a no-no for anyone in my opinion. Cycling (with low resistance), swimming and aqua jogging are usually well tolerated.

Shin Splints are an injury caused by increased load/pull on the tibia bone. Cross-training involving minimal weight-bearing such as cycling or swimming is usually well tolerated. That being said, you should try to include some periods of weight-bearing to stimulate healing, so try short periods of walking.

Another thought: If you are wanting to keep up with your cardiovascular fitness, try to mimic the activity. If you were planning a long run, do a long slow bike ride or swim. Be careful though! If you’re new to the activity, build up gradually. Don’t replace a running injury with a cycling one!

If you're unsure about cross-training options, or if you should rest from running completely, schedule an appointment with your Physical Therapist.


All information on this site is considered for education purposes only. They do not make a diagnosis and are not considered as treatment. It is not a substitute for a health evaluation. 

What is the one BEST workout move?

One would be amazed how many times I am asked "What is the one best thing I can do for _____." (insert your injury/painful body part here). While that is an impossible question to adequately answer (because there is no "one move" to cure all pain and injury) I do have an option... PLANKS! 

Planks are one of the best things you can do for total body strength and more importantly, stability. That being said, I will always recommend variation in workout routine, frequency, duration, mode, etc for injury prevention and recovery. But, for those who are looking for 1-2 easy things to do every day in order to get them on the right track, planks are it. Here are a few reasons:

1. It's a Total Body Workout. The plank exercise uses multiple different muscle groups, starting with the shoulders. You must engage your shoulder and scapular muscles by pushing the mid back towards the ceiling and putting the humerus "in the socket." This creates stability in the shoulder joint and shoulder blade, and can help increase strength for other weight bearing upper extremity movements (ie. pushups). While performing planks, many people will say, "I just feel it in my shoulders!" which have weak shoulders! 

The abdominal muscles are activated by keeping your pelvis tucked and trying to take the natural curve out of the lumbar spine. The key thing here is to not let your belly bottom drop towards the floor. Pull it in toward your spine. 

The lower extremities should be very active here as well, which is easy to forget. By engaging your glutes (squeezing your butt) and quads (pulling your knee caps towards your nose), as well as pushing your heels towards the opposite/back wall, you will be fulling engaging your lower extremity muscle groups.

2. Progressions for Beginners to Advanced. Many of us think of planks in one position only - on our toes and elbows. However, there is a beginner stage and ways to add variation to make planks more challenging. By starting on your knees, you are engaging the same muscles from your hips up. This puts MUCH less strain on your upper extremities, but still challenges your abdominal muscles and shoulders in the same way, just less intensely. Then, once you have mastered the true "plank" for 2 minutes, you can add in things like: alternating touching one knee down at a time, lifting one leg, followed by one arm at a time, stepping one foot out and back in, or adding jumping apart. To challenge the upper body more, army planks are great - you go up to your hands one at a time and then back to the elbows. To make the plank easier on your shoulders if you need, go onto your hands instead of your elbows. 

3. You don't need ANY equipment. Activation and endurance of our "core" or abdominal musculature is much more important than power or strength. If you think about it, we need to maintain our core activation for longer periods of time (endurance), not necessarily having so much strength that we need to lift heavy things. Therefore, planks can always be increased in difficulty by increasing duration. Because you don't need to add weight to make it more challenging, planks can be done anywhere, anytime. Heck, you can even do them during lunch at your desk! Plus, plank competitions can be a great way to get your team at work active and moving. 

Expanding a bit, try incorporating side planks. All the same progressions and modifications apply, like going onto your hand instead of your elbow, starting on your knees, or lifting one leg to make it more challenging. If you want to incorporate these moves into your routine at home, I like to call it the rotisserie =) Get the front/back and each side! 

What the heck am I supposed to eat??

In trying to decide what to write about for my very first blog post, I thought, what is something I am concerned with at the present moment? Something that is relatable to my physical and mental well-being. It seems that food is a constant concern: what can I grab thats easy for lunch (and won’t make me want to stop at Jimmy Johns because I’m still hungry). Or what can I make for dinner that is healthy and different. This is especially a challenge coming from a family where a steak-that-filled-your-plate-leaving-no-room-for anything-but-a-baked-potato was a weekly dinner. 

The other reason my interest in this topic was sparked is because of a documentary I watched recently called “Food Choices.” It takes an unbiased, scientific look at what we should and shouldn’t be eating. The biggest thing I took away from the video as well as my own studies was this: Our bodies can only process so much protein. So eating a ridiculous amount of protein and forgetting about carbs is not the answer! It is recommended that we get .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight in a day. For a 130 lb. female that is 46g of protein. Did you know that a small, 3 oz piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein!!? Even if we are exercising and trying to build lean muscle mass, we don’t need much more protein then that; our bodies simply can’t process it and it can be extremely hard on our kidneys. The other piece of this information that is key is that all animal proteins are created equal. I clearly thought that eating salmon was MUCH better for me than a large steak. The truth is, is might have a tiny amount less of fat, but not much. The amount of protein is what matters, and anything that comes from animals has a lot.

Now what? Not eating meat let alone all animal foods and going to a strictly whole food, plant based diet is out of the question for me. If anything, I am taking a more “laid back” approach to eating. It is somewhat freeing to not worry about counting calories or the grams of protein I am trying to get in day. And I can eat whole grains and carbs?! The best news yet. And my message to anyone else trying to figure out the best diet for their body is to DO YOUR RESEARCH. Don’t listen to the news or advertisements because they are all biased and not scientific. Read a book written by a nutritionist who has studied these things for a long time. Not someone’s opinion. and bottom line, do what works for you. Don’t restrict yourself or torture yourself because you think thats what you should do. Eat when your hungry, and everything in moderation. (easier said then done=) GOOD LUCK!