Monday, March 28, 2011

Why Women Must Exercise for Mental Health

By Claudia Reardon, M.D.

Exercise has mental health benefits for men and women of all ages.  However, there are unique factors to consider in thinking about the mental health benefits of exercise for women in particular.  Compared to men, women have a two-fold increased prevalence of major depression throughout their reproductive life cycle.  Exercise can be a very useful treatment for depression in women at any of a number of different times in their lives:   

  • During pregnancy and breastfeeding:  Depression is highly prevalent in women of childbearing age.  Medications are often necessary to treat moderate to severe depression.  However, many women wish to avoid treatment with medications during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.  At least one study has shown that women who exercised regularly reported less depression in the first and second trimesters compared with women who did not exercise.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days.
  • During the postpartum period:  Exercise can also help to treat and prevent postpartum depression.  One study has shown that postpartum women who exercised three times per week had less depression than postpartum women who did not exercise. 
  • During the premenstrual period:  Exercise can be useful to treat physical and emotional premenstrual symptoms.  It is less clear if exercise by itself can treat the most severe of premenstrual syndromes (called “premenstrual dysphoric disorder”), but it is still a first-line treatment strategy that most physicians would recommend. 
  • During menopause:  Several studies have shown that aerobic exercise can improve both depression and insomnia occurring during menopause.  Additionally, lower intensity exercise such as yoga has been shown to improve psychological well-being in menopausal women.
Importantly, women may experience barriers to exercise.  Here are some examples of these barriers, and strategies to help address them:

  • Childcare issues:  Women are often responsible for childcare, which makes it difficult for them to find opportunities to exercise.  Gyms that offer childcare services can be helpful.  Also, partners can share the workload. 
  • Intimidation:  Some women may feel uncomfortable working out in the coed environment of a gym.  Consider taking women-only exercise classes, or walking or doing other exercise with women exercise buddies.
  • Self-consciousness about appearance:  If a woman is already uncomfortable about her appearance, then she might worry that she’s drawing even more attention to her body by exercising, especially if wearing skimpy sports clothes.  One strategy is to try walking, which can be done almost anywhere and in almost any type of clothing.
  • Guilt:  Women, especially those who are family caretakers, sometimes describe feeling guilty about taking time for themselves to exercise.  Remember, it is not a selfish thing to exercise.  You are taking time to improve your physical and emotional health, which will allow you to more effectively be there for others.  Besides, you deserve to experience the benefits of exercise!   

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Talking to Kids about the Earthquake in Japan

Our hearts and condolences go out to the people of Japan and the families involved in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan last week. 
Everyone has seen the live images, captured on cell phones and video cameras, coming from Japan.  They are vivid, dramatic, compelling, and scary.  We have all watched the coverage on television and online as more and more photos and videos circulate showing the massive tsunami wave rolling over the sea wall, shaking houses and buildings, fires, explosions,  and the massive destruction afterwards.  The subsequent explosions of the nuclear reactor and news of a nuclear reactor meltdown near Sendei, Japan are also extremely disturbing. 
Our 24 hour news cycle enhances the impact of these images which can be traumatizing for viewers of all ages.  Media has a particularly powerful influence on children and adolescents, and the pictures it shows shapes a child’s perception of the world.  Young children watching images of disaster believe that the event is happening in real time, and they’re in danger.  At such times, helping children feel safe and protected in their own home and community is important.  Parents should keep in mind the following tips when viewing photos and videos during and after disasters:
  • Be vigilant!  Not all sources of media provide warnings about upcoming traumatic images.
  • Viewing traumatic images may be re-traumatizing.
  • Limit children’s exposure to media coverage of the event.
  • Co-view media coverage of the trauma and discuss content with children and adolescents.
  • Encourage children to draw, write, play music, and exercise in ways to express their feelings about the traumatic events.
  • Maintain structure and family routines. has more information on how to talk to your children about disasters.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?

By Gariane Gunter, M.D.

Children these days are busier than ever!  I often hear from parents that it is such a rush to fit everything in and still get the kids to bed on time.  I struggle with the same dilemma at my house.  As a mom, I understand how difficult early bedtimes can be, however, as a psychiatrist, I know why an adequate sleep schedule is so significant for our child's physical and emotional health.   

The American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Your Child's Sleep provides some helpful guidelines regarding just how much sleep children need at different stages in their development. Keep in mind that these numbers reflect total sleep hours in a 24-hour period. So if your child still naps, you'll need to take that into account when you add up his typical sleep hours.

Birth-6 Months, children need 16-20 hours
6-12 Months, children need 14-15 hours
Ages 1-3, children need 10-13 hours
Ages 3-10, children need 10-12 hours
Ages 11-12, children need 9-12 hours
Teenagers need 10-12 hours of sleep per night
Kids need a lot of sleep, huh?!  Children and teens who are sleep deprived may show some difficult behaviors.  They may display frequent irritability, overreact emotionally, have difficulty concentrating, forget things easily, wake often during the night, and may even display hyperactive behaviors.
Teaching kids how to keep a nighttime routine that gets them to bed early will help your children be at their best.  Sweet Dreams!