Outdoor Recreation Boosts Mood for Mesothelioma Patients
Exercise and physical activity improve mental and physical health. Some of the most helpful exercises are done outdoors and with other people. For patients with mesothelioma, outdoor recreation and social physical activities can provide amazing mental health benefits, including reducing depression, which too often accompanies this terrible disease.
Mesothelioma and Depression
Mesothelioma is an aggressive and incurable cancer. Having it means facing mortality. It also changes relationships, physical ability, the ability to work and earn an income, body and weight, and independence. Being sick and undergoing treatment for mesothelioma means physical discomfort, including pain, nausea, dry mouth, and many other symptoms.
All of this reduces a cancer patient’s quality of life and can devastate their mental health. Cancer patients are at an increased risk for depression and anxiety and for stress, fear, and other negative emotions. Be aware of this risk and notice the signs of depression, either in yourself or a loved one, so you can get help. There are many ways, from medications to therapy, to relieve depression. One way is to get active and to get outdoors.
The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
For mesothelioma patients and healthy people both, exercise is a natural remedy for depression. While it will not substitute as a treatment for those with severe 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.
Exercise 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 releases chemicals in the brain called endorphins, natural mood boosters.
In mesothelioma patients one benefit of exercise is indirect. Appropriate exercise can help relieve some of the physical discomfort you feel from 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, so you can tolerate treatments better.
The Extra Boost Going Outdoors Adds
Exercise is good for your health, and can even treat depression from having mesothelioma, but outdoor exercise boosts these positive benefits. Outdoor recreation and physical activity improve overall health, but simply being outside in nature also improves your 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, even a city park, reduces the risk of depression and has a positive effect on mood. 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. Exposure to sunshine is one way we get vitamin D, which is important for physical health. Recent research has also found that sunlight impacts mental health. Studies show 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 hits some people 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 improves quality of life for someone with mesothelioma. Socialization can magnify the benefits. Recreational activities that involve multiple participants have three factors that 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 found that social recreation helps patients with different types of conditions feel less lonely and feel positive and hopeful. 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
Cancer patients must take care when adding exercise to their daily routines. Talk to your doctor before you start anything new and find out any exercise you need to avoid, what exercises are appropriate, and what your limitations are. Choose an activity that makes sense, and run it by your medical team before you start.
Don’t push yourself too hard physically. Even a walk in a park with friends is a beneficial way to get exercise, get outdoors, and enjoy social time. You do not need 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.
Tell the organizers of any outdoor recreation events about your health needs and limitations. If you are joining an organized group, whether informal or 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 for 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
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