Depression and exercise – a bit about a study and how it was reported

As I wolfed down my breakfast this morning, I spotted this Guardian headline in my twitter feed “Exercise doesn’t help depression, study concludes“. It linked to a Press Association (so not even filtered through the brain and typing fingers of a science journalist) article reporting the findings of the somewhat less snappier titled “Facilitated physical activity as a treatment for depressed adults: randomised controlled trial“. ‘Aye aye’ I thought, ‘that seems a bit dodgy’, and so it seems did the rest of twitter.

My critical appraisal skills are a bit rusty, but even a quick skim through the article suggested that the media reporting of it was a bit bobbins. The study investigated whether telephone and face to face contacts could help maintain or improve people’s participation in 150 minutes (or just more than they did normally) of moderate to vigorous exercise per week, rather than just being advised to do so. This was the intervention in the title, not actually exercise itself. So the headlines probably should have read something like “Intervention designed to encourage people to exercise doesn’t help depression, study concludes”. The intervention actually provided up to 3 face to face sessions and 10 telephone contacts over 6-8 months – as any hardened Athoner will testify, this is actually a damn sight less than you get when JogBlog thinks that you’re slacking (or indeed less than you get from twitter whenever you tweet that you can’t be arsed running because it’s raining/you’re tired/you can’t find the motivation to pull on your trainers).

My favourite line of the study is that in contrast to moderate levels of exercise “…vigorous activity is almost always experienced as unpleasant while it is performed but there is improved affect and pleasure shortly after finishing…”. I suspect that we all know that to be true.

Far cleverer people than me have commented on the article (not even counting that it’s inspired not one, not two but three comment pieces in the Guardian) and I would heartily recommend this objective but personal response by blogger Purplepersuasion as well.

I will finish with giving you the advice that if you ever see a headline about a health study that makes you raise an eyebrow, make your first port of call the Behind the Headlines pages on NHS Choices, which gives straightforward appraisals of both the studies and how the media have reported them.

I’ve only gone and joined a gym

If you want to make me cantankerous, take me to a gym. It’s not that I dislike them, in fact I’ve had spells of regular gym bunnying in the past and can get quite into the whole thing, it’s just that turn me a bit grumpy. All of a sudden I turn Spartan – I don’t want fuss or frills, I don’t want any concessions for being a girl, I don’t want to be told stuff that is clearly bollocks. The last gym that I looked round was a big chain place with a smoothie bar, indoor tennis courts, outdoor pool and hi-tech gizmos in the fitness bit. Actually, scrub that – it wasn’t just ‘a gym’ it was a ‘lifestyle centre’. What’s more, it wasn’t just a lifestyle centre, it was a lifestyle centre ‘for people like you’. People like me? Really? I wouldn’t want to go to a place full of people like me. And anyway, Mr Show People Round, if you’d looked at my mucky little Clio lowering the tone of the car park full of Audis, Mercs and BMWs, you’d realised that I’m probably not the aspirational type that you’re looking for.

My sexism/nonsense heckles were raised when we went to look round the new gym (where I was actually a member until a few years ago and I will say now that the staff and facilities are lovely) and we peered in the room that contains the toning tables. Toning tables. I ask you. Luckily we didn’t dwell too long, so the poor lad avoided a series of increasingly incredulous questions asking why on earth I would want to do a non-cardio, non-stretching, pointlessly passive activity that isn’t doesn’t even have the benefits of being weight-bearing.

There is also a small ladies-only section of the gym, which as far as I can see is occupied by the two extremes of under-confident baggy t-shirted ladies and the over-confident fake tan and false eye-lashed crowd. Either way, it’s not really me. The main gym does have a fairly high ratio of grunting men (though there are other gyms in town that cater for the more meat-headed end of the spectrum) and I will admit that there were a few gathered around the exercise mats like some kind of primate lounging on the rocks at the zoo, but I’m looking forward to the entertainment of people watching.

Ginge and I did a shared induction where we weighed, measured and not found to be too badly wanting –  I wasn’t quite as lard-based as I expected and I already knew that if I loose half a stone, I would sneak into the normal BMI range. I also know that I’m not too fussed about that for any number of reasons and was pleased that it wasn’t assumed that I wanted to use the gym to lose weight. When it came to goal setting, I waffled about using the gym to improve my running and do something to improve my pathetically weak upper body strength (I will manage a successful yoga crocodile one day). We went on the despised rowing machines and climbed ¼ of the Great Pyramids (on the Famous Steps programme) and all was fine until we started on the treadmill…

We walked, yes we feel fine. We increased the speed a bit, yes we feel fine. We made the gradient steeper, we feel fine. We lowered the gradient and upped the speed, yes we feel fine. When I say upped the speed, I think it was 5mph… I announced that I wanted to get my pace down to being more regularly less than 10 minutes/mile. So that’s about 5.5mph he said. No I said. There followed some tooing and froing which ended with me going “10 minute miles are 6mph. I can run a 10k in an hour”. I know that I know quite a bit of running theory (even if I don’t put it into practice) and I hang around on twitter with runners who are absolute founts of knowledge, so I don’t expect him to know too much, but as I muttered darkly to Ginge “that’s not running knowledge, it’s just basic bloody maths”.

Everything else went fairly smoothly (apart from two potential flashpoints when he referred to the chest being “a large muscle” – I gave him the benefit of the doubt for that one – and being asked to do variations of straight leg raises, of which I am highly sceptical for both their effectiveness for improving core stability and the strain that they place on the lumber spine) and now I’m all signed up. Crikey.

I know that my grumpiness will subside and I will end up becoming focused and competitive (with Ginge and myself) and hopefully I will see some improvement in my running. I’m looking forward to working on my strength and learning to love the rowing machine. If nothing else, I’ve got to love a gym that offers Ferrero Rocher in exchange for racking up 60 visits…

Is someone stealing time from me? Eh? Eh?

When I decided to have a go at following a proper training plan, I looked at the schedule and marvelled at how little 3 days a week looked. In reality, I’ve not dragged out my sorry arse since Wednesday morning. And I appear to be prioritising the easy weekend runs, whilst neglecting the interval sessions, I can’t imagine why…

It’s tricky trying to do different stuff (especially when you’re a wuss like me) when you’re running with company. My friend’s still a bit demotivated on the running front and wasn’t keen to get dragged into a 5miler with fast bits in the middle – I got into enough trouble when we reached my front door only for me to announce “well we’re nearly at 3.7 miles, so we might as well make it 4…”.

My note to self from today was “turn off the garmin’s autonag setting when out with other people” – I don’t think it helped the demotivated friend to be harrangued by what sounds like an angry doorbell whenever we slowed down.

Older, wiser, drunker – it’s the birthday post

I have made the transition from one decade to another – ladies and gentlemen, I am now in my thirties.

I’ve got to say that I’ve had a splendid birthday (and still got 2 hours of it left) and have had lots of lovely pressies (but more of that in a tick).

Monday was racketball day, very much fun but it’s made me realise that I don’t respond well to being asked to do any kind of exercise drill – run up and down a squash court bouncing a ball on a racquet? Well yes I will, but this is the sort of thing that I became an adult to avoid, so if you don’t mind I’ll just go back to hitting squash balls at my husband in a highly competitive fashion. Thanks. Oh, and if I want to be called a girl, I would go back to primary school and then I might be cajoled into doing shuttle runs as well. And yes I know it’s fun and a bit of a giggle, but please stop telling me that. In short, the session was run by a very enthusiastic chap with very good intentions (encouraging women [note ‘women’] to try a new sport) that I support wholeheartedly – it just tapped into the part of my being that hated PE and  feeling like a fat crap kid.

Tuesday was group run night, which was a session in and around the park (conjuring up lots of flashbacks to a. lurking around the park on the swings and b. traumatic cross country in giant pants). Wednesday was yoga (lots of strong leg work and I suspect that warrior poses are going to be the core of our 8 week session – go quads!). Thursday was supposed to be a run, but I finished work for 4 days and had that Friday feeling (and a pile of ironing), so I did nothing.

Friday was supposed to be my long run day. I woke up feeling more tired than when I went to bed and grumpier than a bear with an empty picnic basket. Having set a target of 8am to go out, I eventually went out at the end of Desert Island Discs at 9.45. If I’d have trusted my judgement, I would have run straight up to my mum’s (about 5 and a bit miles) rather than try and extend my running time (I’d only done 1 other run this week, it was already too warm and I didn’t take water). As it was, I stuck to my plan and ran a very winding way to mum’s (we were setting up for a birthday bash there the next night), up a very long, slight hill and then down to the canal. I just about managed an hour and then wanted to give up. So I did. But was still 3 miles away from my destination with no way of getting anywhere else. I was stupidly dehydrated (I don’t seem to learn) and found myself plodding up the canal thinking “I could drink canal water couldn’t I. No, it’s dirty, think of the rats and the weil’s disease. But it’s so wet and cold and I’m so thirsty”. I walked a bit, started to try and run, did a minute, whimpered slightly, walked some more and then pulled myself together and managed another 20 or so minutes. And then had to walk again. Then decided that if I was going to run-walk, I might as well run at a decent speed and did a bit of an interval stylee for the last mile. As my friend very kindly pointed out, this was the last run of my twenties (thanks love) and as a momentous one, it was a bit a shit. But I’m not that bothered – it’s just made me realise that if I’m serious about upping my mileage I need to a. take things more seriously and b. listen to my body.

At this moment of time, I’m full of a cold and gently infused with some lovely real ales, so obviously I need to work on point a. a bit more.

My birthday pressie list has been very interesting and is scarily revealing about how my head works. On the one hand, A Piece of Cake and Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache (which at least contains veg). On the other hand a lovely running top (much more figure hugging than I would ever choose for myself and will go ever so well with the Ronhill capri pants I won in a raffle), What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, the promise of a new pair of trainers AND….. My very own Garmin. Yes folks, I’m a Serious Runner With A Garmin, see me roar. This will solve many things that I have been whingeing about recently (husband suffers me swearing as I plot my route on walkjogrun, complaining that I can’t pace myself and fretting that I’m over or underestimating my mileage – I suspect that his motivation wasn’t entirely selfless when he chose it) so prepare yourselves for being bored senseless as I figure out what it does.

Oh, and apparently this means that I have to do the half that I’ve been threatening to do.

Eat my goal!

Well last week’s lesson was “if you’re chuffed with what you’ve done, blog quickly before you have chance to devalue it and turn it into a negative”. Putting that lesson into practice, I’m quite pleased with yesterday’s run – upping my time from 1hr 20 to 1hr 30, which translated into 7.8ish miles. Once again it was a bit on the undulating side – I’m learning that that there’s no escaping hills round here, it’s not quite Wales, but we have plenty of mini valleys.


One new idea I have adopted/adapted was from Runners World (I buy it occasionally to feel like I’m a real runner…) – 101 Best Tips Ever in the August issue.

Number 33, from Joe Beer (author of Need to Know Triathlon)

‘Set “failure”, “adequate”, “success” and “dream” goals for all your races. This means you have an exact benchmark with which to rate your efforts rather than how you got on compared with someone else – or worse still, lowering a goal after a race to ensure you succeeded’.

Now, there’s not much chance of the latter; I’m much more likely to be disappointed that I didn’t achieve a goal that I didn’t actually set before I went out (didn’t go far/fast/long enough, even though I did the time/distance that I intended to).

So for me, setting these graded goals means that I can try to move away from my ‘all or nothing’ thinking – my success goal yesterday had 2 built in recovery walks of 30 seconds (see above to see if you can guess where they were). I was thinking about some arcane knowledge I picked up somewhere along the way which says that you should try to increase your distance by 10% each week. Technically this would have taken me up to 1hr 28, which I felt was perfectly acceptable, so even with my minute’s walk I ran for 1hr 29. And then added an extra minute at the end to round things up…

PS. Graceless plodding aside, I’m continuing in my spirit of Juneathon to try something new tomorrow. Anyone for racketball?