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Outdoor Recreation Boosts Mood for Mesothelioma Patients

Exercise and physical activity are already proven to improve mental health, as well as to have a number of overwhelmingly positive physical health benefits. There is evidence now that some of the best kinds of exercise are done outdoors and with other people. For patients with mesothelioma, outdoor recreation and social physical activities can provide amazing mental health benefits including helping battle the depression that too often accompanies this terrible disease.

Mesothelioma and Depression

Mesothelioma is an aggressive and incurable type of cancer. Living with this illness means facing mortality. It also means facing changing roles in relationships, in physical ability, in the ability to work and earn an income, in body and weight, and in needing assistance. Being sick and undergoing treatment for mesothelioma also means experiencing physical discomfort, including pain, nausea, dry mouth, and many other symptoms.

All of this comes together to reduce a cancer patient’s quality of life and this can have a big impact on mental health. Cancer patients are at an increased risk for developing depression and anxiety and for experiencing stress, fear, and other negative emotions on a regular basis. It is important to be aware of this risk and to notice the signs of depression, either in yourself or a loved one, so you can get help and treatment. There are many ways, from medications to therapy, that you can find relief from depression. One of those is to get active and to get outdoors.

The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

For mesothelioma patients and healthy people, exercise is a natural remedy for depression. While it will not substitute as a treatment for those with severe depression or clinical depression, exercise is a useful adjunct, and for many people is enough to boost mood and make medications unnecessary. Studies have proven that exercise is a valid treatment for mild to moderate depression, and that it can even be as effective as antidepressant medications. Studies have also shown that exercise can reduce anxiety and stress.

The reason that exercise can have such a powerful mental health impact is likely because it triggers positive brain changes: growth of new brain cells, less inflammation, and activity patterns that are related to a sense of well-being and calm. Exercise also triggers the release of chemicals in the brain called endorphins, natural mood boosters.

Another way that exercise helps boost mood and combat depression in mesothelioma patients is indirect. Appropriate exercise can help relieve some of the physical discomfort that you feel as a result of being sick and from the side effects of treatments. Being more active may help you regain some mobility, experience less pain, and enjoy better overall health, which means being better able to tolerate treatments.

The Extra Boost Going Outdoors Adds

Exercise is good for your health, and can even treat your depression that comes from having mesothelioma, but doing that exercise outdoors makes these positive benefits even better. Outdoor recreation and physical activity have been found to improve overall health, but simply being outside, in nature, has been shown in studies to boost mood. One study found that just five minutes of so-called green exercise, being active outdoors, can generate measurable improvements in mood and self-esteem.

Another study found that simply walking in nature, which could even be a city park, reduces the risk of depression and has a positive effect on mood. In this study the researchers scanned the brains of participants after a walk, some who walked through a natural area, others down a busy city street. The former had less activity in the part of the brain involved in depressive thoughts. For patients with mesothelioma, depression is often a side effect, but just getting out of the house, out of the hospital, and into a park can make a big difference.

The Mood Boosting Effect of Sunlight

In addition to the benefits of being in nature and being active, mesothelioma patients can also get a mood boost on sunny days outdoors. Exposure to sunshine is one way in which we get vitamin D, which is important for physical health, but recent research has also found that sunlight impacts mental health. Studies have found that exposure to ultraviolet light, which comes from the sun, triggers the production of serotonin, a hormone that lifts mood.

Lower levels of serotonin are associated with depression and seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that some people experience during the winter months when there is less sunlight. The same effect, feelings of depression from not being exposed to enough sunlight, may occur in patients who are cooped up indoors. To get outside and active means enjoying the benefits of exercise and recreation, but also the mood boost that comes with exposure to sunlight.

The Social and Mental Benefits of Recreation

Getting exercise, and doing it outside in natural areas, can be a big mood boost that makes a serious impact of quality of life for someone with mesothelioma. One other addition to the recipe can magnify the benefits even more: socialization. Recreational activities that involve multiple participants have all three factors that come together to help patients feel better: exercise, being outdoors, and socializing.

One study found that recreational group sports and activities helped people of all ages and abilities experience less depression and greater social interaction. Other studies have seen that social recreation helps patients with different types of conditions feel less lonely and feel positive about having something to look forward to. Social support is a valuable way for anyone, including mesothelioma patients, to combat and cope with negative emotions like depression.

Outdoor Exercise Dos and Don’ts for Mesothelioma Patients

Anyone living with and being treated for cancer must take care when adding exercise to their daily routines. Do talk to your doctor before you start doing anything new and find out what kind of exercise you need to avoid, what types of exercises are appropriate, and what your limitations are. This can help you choose an activity that makes sense to participate in, and once you do choose one, be sure to run it by your medical team before you get started.

Don’t push yourself too hard physically. Even a walk in a park with friends is a beneficial way to get exercise, time spent outdoors, and social time. You do not need to do strenuous exercise to get the benefits. Some outdoor recreational activities may be too much for you, like soccer or softball, but there are others that may be just right. For example, disc, golf, light hiking, and even outdoor hobbies like bird watching can be less vigorous while still providing positive health benefits.

Do be sure that you make the organizers of any outdoor recreation events aware of your health needs and limitations. If you are joining up with an organized group, whether informal or more formal, the leader of the group needs to know that you may need to go slower than other participants or that there are signs you are overdoing it and that you need help. You may be able to find healthy outdoor activities that are organized just for cancer patients. Check with your medical facility; many now include recreation and exercise events tailored for those with limitations and medical needs.

A definite do is to get active, get outdoors, and spend time with other people if at all possible. If you are physically able to participate in any kind of outdoor recreation and your doctor gives you the go-ahead, do it. You won’t regret getting more active and enjoying the time outdoors in the company of supportive friends, old or new.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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