Effects of Depression on Exercise

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*I got tired of hearing about how exercise reduces symptoms of depression and that the incidence of depression among regular exercisers, so when an opportunity to look at the reverse appeared, I took it. Here is a summary of my research (“lit review”/”background review” for you nit pickers).*

Exercise normalizes the body’s functions. For example, if a person with high blood pressure were to continue on a long-term exercise plan, blood pressure would be reduced. Exercise works the other way, too; a person with very low blood pressure who follows a long-term exercise plan will find their blood pressure rising into the body’s optimum range. Likewise it reduces the effects of insulin resistance (in other words, it increases the body’s sensitivity to existing insulin levels), which is why exercise is often part of the management plan for diabetics.

Exercise has a similar effect on the brain, and therefore, mood. In a normal person, exercise releases endorphins, increases serotonin and norepinephrine levels, and reduce cortisol levels, all of which result in an increase in perceived mood. Unfortunately, such is not always the case with those who suffer from depression. There is a high correlation between patients with major depressive disorder and those with smaller than average hippocampal regions with less neurogenic activity in the region affecting both memory and mood. (Lorenzetti, Allen, Fornito, & Yucel, 2009)

What exercise will do for the depressed client is: reduce cortisol levels and increase endorphins. There are conflicting studies as to whether or not levels of neurotransmitters are changed via exercise; however a recent study involving mice demonstrates that exercise decreases observable depression-type behavior even when tryptophan levels (a precursor and limiting factor for serotonin) were kept low. This indicates that, as with diabetics, exercise may increase the brain’s sensitivity to existing levels of neurotransmitters rather than affecting the concentration of neurotransmitters. (Lee, Ohno, Ohta, & Mikami, 2013) Other studies have shown that there is a lower rate of incidence of depression in regular exercisers. (Strawbridge, Deleger, Roberts, & Kaplan, 2002)

There is a vast pool of literature that tests and retests these conclusions. Few doubt the benefits of exercise on depression. Unfortunately this picture is incomplete. Those who are chronically depressed tend to find it irritating when these and other studies are quoted and we are expected to be motivated. Among other things, we’ve been assured that everything from St. John’s Wort to Prozak will make things better. When treatment after treatment fails, it’s hard to have faith in yet another lifestyle change. The Missing Piece

Stalking Language

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Writing requires a certain precision in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. It’s not always easy to get these elements to line up in a meaningful way. Sometimes it can be downright difficult. So difficult, in fact, that I have yet to see a college degree plan that doesn’t require proof of competency…usually by attaining a grade of “C” or better in a composition class of some sort.

I enjoy language. I enjoy using language to inform, describe, and entertain. More specifically, I enjoy writing. I spend a decent amount of time putting ideas into a readable format. I also spend a lot of time revising so that what I wrote matches what I want to say on more than one level. This means paying attention to more than just the definition of a word. It also means examining the connotation so that denotation matches the emotional intent. (As an example, compare the following: smell, odor, stench, fragrance.)

In addition to determining the appropriate vocabulary, I also pay attention to the grammar and syntax. I’m sometimes criticized for using what some of my readers call “bizarre sentence construction” or “confusing” sentences. They then suggest a simpler way of saying what they believe the message is. For example:

My version: I would have been walking for three hours at four o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Their version: I was walking at four o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Yes, their version is easier to understand; however, in looking at the implications of how the information is presented, my version conveys (or at least is intended to convey) a person reconstructing his memory to report it to a questioner. The other is more like someone with a time-stamped video.

So what? Just because I spend extra time to make sure a particular message includes not only the appropriate denotation, but also the appropriate emotional content, does that mean I expect everyone else to do the same? Of course not. Many times, it’s not even necessary. Unfortunately, sometimes it is. I recently ran into just such an issue in one of my textbooks. It rests on a single word: “between”. The issue: defining cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and flame war.

The text has the following definitions:

Cyberbullying: children or teenagers bullying other children or teenagers via the Internet

Cyberstalking: repeated threats or harassing behavior between adults carried out via email or another Internet communications method

Setting aside the issue that differentiation based on age is, at best, arbitrary, there are so many problems with the cyberstalking definition, it’s hard to know just where to begin*. However, just looking at the second definition (not the word it’s defining), it seems to define “flame war” better than “cyberstalking”. One of my reasons for saying this is the word “between”. Doing less than two minutes of research, you can see that most definitions of cyberbullying/cyberstalking go one way. If you look up “between” on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the first definition in the full definition listing is: “by the common action of: jointly engaging”. In other words, there is reciprocal effort. That just doesn’t fit with the apparent intention of the definition.

The really annoying thing is that when I asked about this in order to clarify my understanding of what will be tested in class, the instructor merely repeated the definition and justified it as “the textbook was written by computer experts.” *headdesk*

*For comparison, here is the National Institute of Justice’s (the research section of the US Department of Justice) definition of cyberstalking: the use of technology to stalk victims; it involves the pursuit, harassment, or contact of others in an unsolicited fashion initially via the Internet and e-mail. It is part of the web page describing stalking. (http://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/stalking/)

The English Language On Word Order Depends

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Yesterday’s post was a rant about a teacher and textbook disguised as a rant about writing. One of my points involved grammar. I’m reblogging a post also concerned with lax grammar. Enjoy.

[Edit: By “Yesterday’s post” I mean “next Monday’s post“. *facepalm* It’s what I get for trying to write at least a post ahead of time.]

Live to Write - Write to Live

I-need-you-I-miss-you-I-love-you-3-love-10112773-1024-768While I’m hiking The Long Trail, I’m reposting old favorites. This one originally published October 22, 2013.

The English language on word order depends.

If that sentence doesn’t convince you, try this:

Take the adverb “only” and place it in different positions in the following sentence.

He said, “I love you.” (Nice thought.)

Only he said, “I love you.” (No one else said it.)

He only said, “I love you.” (He said nothing else.)

He said, “Only I love you.” (No one else does.)

He said, “I love only you.” (He doesn’t love any one else.)

He said, “I love you only.” (His love is exclusive.)

In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White advise that “Modifiers should come, if possible, next to the word they modify.” When modifiers are misplaced, the result is always  ambiguity – and often hilarity as well. Consider this Classified Ad:…

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Weird Advertising

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Every now and then you see something just enough out of place to twist your mind a little. I’m not talking about something that’s obviously in the wrong place or something that is in bad taste. I’m talking about something that would make perfect sense, if it were in a slightly different place.

I live in Austin, Texas. Lots of good things about it. Also lots of bad things about it. But none of them is the point of this post. One of the grassroots marketing campaign by local businesses is the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign. You see this slogan on T-shirts, bumper stickers, buttons, coffee mugs…the list goes on. It started a few years ago in response to an increase in big box and chain stores. The whole point is that for many years, Austin has enjoyed a reputation for being a little off-kilter…especially when compared to the rest of Texas.

Austin has several bedroom communities which were originally townships in their own right. One of them, Round Rock, seems to have latched on to the “Keep Austin Weird” idea. I’ve seen a number of bumper stickers reading “Keep Round Rock a Little Less Weird Than Austin”. I admit I got a chuckle out of seeing that, and as a marketing idea, it seems to have worked. Another bedroom community, Pflugerville, has almost set itself up in opposition with a “Keep Pflugerville Normal” campaign. A little less effective, especially since it only works in relation to the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign.

With that in mind, I saw something a while back that twisted my mind a little. I was driving through Pflugerville to teach a private lesson when I saw a billboard for 7-11 convenience stores. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself; after all, every business needs to advertise. What caught my eye was the billboard’s tag-line. Normally, if you think of a 7-11 tag-line, you’ll probably come up with “Oh, thank Heaven!” Nope. Not even close. This Pflugerville billboard’s tag-line was “Around Every Weird Little Corner”.

It took me a while to realize why the billboard bothered me. The slogan was awkward and didn’t really mean anything. Then I realized it was about five miles too far northeast. It might have been a good idea. After all, they’re acknowledging (or at least trying to acknowledge) the uniqueness of Austin, play upon its citizens’ pride of where they live. (More cynically, they’re trying to piggyback on an already existing and successful marketing campaign.) Either way, putting a billboard touting “weird”ness in a community that takes pride in “Keep[ing] Pflugerville Normal” seems like such a basic error that I just had to roll my eyes. I’m not sure whether to laugh or pity the advertising group.

Yes, it’s maintained TOPA (Top of Mind Awareness), one of the major goals of any marketing campaign. Unfortunately for them, it’s not a “let’s go to 7-11” awareness, it’s now filed in my mind as “marketing campaign that brained itself coming out of the gate.”


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Few doubt the efficacy of goal setting as a means of accomplishing what you need or want. Yet for most people, goal setting is limited to “Lose weight” or “Get fit” or even “Get better at _____.” Those who leave their goals at this point are either doomed to failure, or damned with faint success. I’ve recently encountered two acronyms for goal setting: SPIRO and SMART.


A SPIRO goal contains all of these elements. But what do they mean? In brief: Specific means something concrete, something you can point to and say “I achieved that.” Practical means the goal has to be applicable in a meaningful way, a specific goal of lifting 150 lbs. is not really germane if your overall objective is to write 2000 words a day. Inspirational means the goal has to be something that you not only want to achieve, but will provide something on which you can base further developments. In other words, the goal itself is something you want to achieve as opposed to being merely a means to an end. Realistic means it has to be achievable without having to take drastic, and potentially harmful, measures. For instance, losing 30 pounds in two weeks can be done, but only at severe hazard to both short term and long term health. Obtainable means it must be achievable within a person’s limitations. For instance, someone with advanced cerebral palsy is probably not going to be able to type 100 words a minute, though typing as an activity is not necessarily out of their range of ability.


SMART goals have a lot in common with SPIRO goals. “Specific” is obviously the same, “attainable” and “obtainable” are close enough in meaning that most people use them interchangeably, “practical” and “relevant” in all the discussions I’ve seen on these two processes are essentially the same. The main differences, then, are that SMART goals tend to be more numbers drive (or at least have an emphasis on concrete results) and SMART goals have a time limit. It should be noted that “attainable” includes not only “obtainable” but also “realistic”.

Despite their similarities, SMART and SPIRO goals have different emphases. SPIRO goals appear to be more applicable to therapeutic milieux. In that setting, “realistic” and “obtainable” are separate. While an inspirational goal is generally to be desired in any setting, it plays a special role in therapy that is not generally required in other settings. SMART goals lend themselves to benchmarking. The acronym actually contains the word “measurable”. SMART goals are more likely to be used where productivity is a factor since time is a component both of the goal and of productivity.

So why does it matter that there are multiple acronyms to guide goal setting? Who cares about the differences? For many people, it doesn’t really matter. Those will read this post and say, “Meh. Kind of a dry subject.” Others, though, may have encountered multiple goal setting methods and been confused. To those readers, I’d like to point out that goal setting methods are not really interchangeable…a particular method may or may not be appropriate to a specific setting. All these methods guide you to setting good and appropriate goals, but in order for the goal to be truly good and appropriate to your purpose, the guide must also be appropriate. For instance, if there’s no reason for a goal to be time-bound, as in some therapies, adding an artificial deadline adds yet one more thing for the client to deal with, which may act as a barrier to the client’s ability to achieve the goal. On the other hand, if you’re training for a race, time will definitely be a factor in setting goals since the deadline is not only concrete, but very public.

Having a goal is often necessary to progress. It provides something to strive for, something to make it worth overcoming obstacles. It’s the first step in motivating yourself. For a goal to accomplish these things, though, it must be meaningful. Both SPIRO and SMART are guides to creating a meaningful goal. They are not the only ones, but they’re a couple of the easiest to remember.  Which one gets used will depend on the activity or activities in question.

Searching for Topics

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Excepting the previous two posts, I haven’t blogged for more than a year. I’m out of practice at seeing topics in everyday life. I reread my post on finding topics and I wonder, who is this guy? I remember thinking those thought. I remember writing that post. I remember posting it. Yet in some way, that person is so different from where I am now that I don’t remember being that person at all. This isn’t a complaint. Nor is it a celebration. It goes back to the title of by blog: Maunderings of a Baffled Man. I’m very baffled right now…at least concerning getting back into blogging.

I enjoy writing. I enjoy sharing my ideas with people…at least those who are willing to listen. I even think about lots of things. And yet, I’m finding it difficult coming up with blog topics. I have confidence that this will pass as long as I keep working at it. For now blogs are likely to be short and fairly simple until I get back into the swing of things. I hope to start off with one blog a week…beginning next week. I’m counting these first three posts as a single post since they could probably have been combined into a single post.

Who Needs Stimulants?

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Making a decision and committing to it often brings about a burst of energy. Whether it’s losing a few pounds (or a lot of pounds), or embarking on a career change. There is a sense of energizing finality available from few other mechanisms. I’m not talking about decisions made under duress, though there’s usually a different kind of energy associated with that. Nor am I talking about a decision that doesn’t really matter. Deciding to eat salad instead of soup as an appetizer doesn’t have the life-changing possibilities that fuel that burst of energy. The decisions I’m talking about are the ones that have the potential to alter your life forever. There is trepidation in such a decision, a willingness to look into the possibilities beyond rather than slog through what’s here.  When such a decision is reached and a commitment is made, a sense of “let’s do this, and let’s do it NOW” pervades.

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