Manage Your Depression Through Exercise is a 5-week plan presented by therapist Jane Baxter. Baxter, who has a doctorate degree in Clinical Social Work and is also a certified personal trainer, developed a program combing psychotherapy and exercise called PsychFit. (For more information, visit www.psychfitinc.com.) In this book, Baxter teaches readers how to take the very first steps towards using exercise as a means to improve mood.
Baxter literally starts the first chapter with Week One, Day One of the program. Even before beginning with the exercises, she addresses the negative thinking patterns associated with depression and how these can create common pitfalls which derail motivation. She introduces what she terms "Procrastination Ponderings," or nagging things that are likely to lead one off track while reading the book. To counteract these thoughts, Baxter presents various helpful, motivational worksheets, such as one providing a "Cost Benefit Analysis."
Those concerned that the exercise routine will be too strenuous or too demanding need not worry: for Day One, the total exercise time is 5 minutes. Baxter gradually encourages readers to increase both the intensity and the duration of exercise. In Week Two, she details what she calls the Move More, Smile More Routine (MMSMR). The MMSMR consists of eight basic, strength-building exercises which can be performed with a single pair of dumbbells; Baxter recommends incorporating this routine once per week. By the second week, she allows the reader to create a customized workout plan which consists of doing the MMSMR as well as alternating between light- and moderate-intensity activities. Baxter does provide some suggestions for activities (e.g., walking, jogging, swimming, biking, and aerobics classes) and information on how to execute each, but I was surprised at how little overall structure was given.
The remainder of the book continues in a similar fashion. Baxter acts as a life coach, helping the reader become aware of "downer dialogue" (another term for negative thinking), "bad" days of low energy, and other potential problems which might get in the way of continuing to exercise. She also looks at eating habits, including examining food-mood cycles, the function served by food, and ways to make better food choices. The last few chapters delve more deeply into emotional issues—i.e., addressing the changes occurring in one's life and managing difficult emotions such as stress and anger.
There are many things to like about this book. Baxter is relentlessly positive and encouraging, and she offers her readers countless charts as well as other useful, hands-on materials. However, I was a bit disappointed to discover that her recommendations for exercise are exactly the same for Weeks 2 through 5. Baxter provides the basic outline for the program only (e.g. to do the MMSMR on one day and a cardio activity on five other days), but it is up to the reader to determine the specifics. As a psychologist who frequently recommends exercise to clients myself, I know the importance of being as precise as possible when providing a client with any type of homework assignment in order to increase compliance, and I am concerned that Baxter's lack of detail might lose some of her readers. Still, this is a useful manual that is definitely likely to help at least some depressed readers get up and get started with an exercise program.
© 2011 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.