As featured in the Fall 2018 issue of Spectrum Life Magazine
Question: In addition to being autistic, my loved one also has challenges with stress and depression and finds it hard to be active or leave the house when feeling down. How can I help encourage exercise? Are there some exercises which are better than others for helping reduce stress or negative feelings?
Answer: First, it is important to assure them that they are not alone. According to 2015 statistics from the World Health Organization, roughly 300 million people suffer from depression.
Depression can make you feel isolated and alone, so it is important to stress that this is a mental health issue that millions of others are battling across the world as well. Make sure to seek help from your medical professional to get the care that your loved one needs. When battling a mental health disorder, exercise is a common part of the treatment plan. Studies have shown that exercise can help reduce levels of stress, anxiety, and depression; as well as improve mood, self-confidence, and self-esteem. However, there is still much to be discovered and researched in this area.
The studies that have shown the positive effect of physical activity commonly use aerobic exercise. I would encourage you to find something that you and your loved one could do together. This doesn’t have to mean going to the gym together and taking a spin class with loud music, which can be fun but can also be intimidating for many (not to mention sensory overload). I encourage our clients to take family walks, hikes or bike rides together. This gives you time to enjoy each other’s company and helps facilitate other healthy habits as well.
Getting out of the house due to lack of motivation is often a hurdle that needs to be overcome. The daily family activities should help increase mood and motivation, but you should also create an action plan with your loved one for when they start to feel down. This could be as simple as removing themselves from their current situation and going for a 5-10 minute walk or doing an in-home exercise routine. Whatever it may be, it is easier to follow a plan if it’s already in place than to try and figure out something when the situation arises, which often amplifies their anxiety or depression.
Every person is unique and has their own interests and ability levels. Help your loved one find what works for them. And above all, help them remember that they are not alone.
Question: I’ve been thinking about becoming a vegetarian. Anything that I need to be aware of?
Answer: Did you know that 70% of Americans suffer from ailments related to their diet, which can be improved from following a plant-based diet? Or that it takes approximately 2,500 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef? There are several health and environmental reasons why people choose to follow a plant-based diet. However, there are several things that your diet may be missing once you make the switch to becoming vegetarian. Most people only plan to cut out the meat in their diet but forget to plan the rest of their dietary intake. Here is a list of nutrients that are often low or missing in a plant-based diet:
1. Vitamin B12 - It aids in forming neurotransmitters and helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells but is found in primarily meat products. As a vegetarian or vegan, look at eating foods that are fortified with B12 or supplementing it.
2. Calcium - This is the most common mineral in the human body. It helps with nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, hormone secretion, and forming your teeth and bones. Outside of dairy products, calcium can be found in tofu, nuts, legumes, and fortified non-dairy beverages. Some compounds, eaten in a large amount following a plant-based diet, can hinder its absorption.
3. Iodine - Aids in the formation of T3 and T4, two hormones that help increase your body's metabolic rate. Vegetarian diets tend to have a large amount of soy-based foods, which can compromise thyroid function. Make sure to use iodized salt or supplementation.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids - Found primarily in fish, it should come as no surprise that an individual following a plant-based diet may be deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for your body's overall ability to function. Instead of using a fish oil supplement, look for one that is algae-based in order to prevent chronic disease and help with body composition management.
5. Vitamin D - Found in very few foods, sunshine is the best source of receiving adequate amounts of Vitamin D. If you live in a place where the sun goes into hibernation during the winter months, supplementation is crucial.
About the Author
Ryan Lockard, CSCS, CSPS is the founder and head trainer of Specialty Athletic Training and is accredited by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Certified Special Populations Specialist. He is a member of the board of directors for the Autism Society of America and the Central Oregon Disability Support Network.