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Exercise, sleep and diet can help fight stress, anxiety, U of M doctor says

MOORHEAD – It turns out grandma was right.

Eating your vegetables, exercising often and sleeping well are extremely important in dealing with depression and anxiety, a University of Minnesota doctor told health professionals Friday.

In fact, the staples of “grandmother wisdom” may sometimes do more than medication can.

Which is why it’s important to focus on patients’ lifestyles when treating them, said Dr. Nimi Singh, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.

Singh was one of two keynote speakers at a summit on health equity at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead Friday.

She spoke to a group of about 80 health professionals about how chronic stress can exacerbate depression and anxiety, which can then feed into more stress for patients.

In a heavily medicated society like ours, Singh said, it’s important to know physical health – proper sleep, diet and exercise – can work magic on stress and therefore help depressed or anxious people feel better.

Singh, who deals mostly with adolescents, said she’s had patients respond well to medication at first only to find the effects taper off with time.

That’s because they haven’t addressed their physical health, she said.

“No way is one pill going to override all that,” she said. “All of those other things need to be addressed first and foremost.”

Singh reminded the audience that well-intentioned advice can come off as lecturing to people who suffer from chronic stress.

“If they’re in stress mode,” she said, “They’re not hearing what we’re saying.”

So it’s important to gently guide those with stress, anxiety or depression issues to realizing they usually feel better after a good night’s sleep or a string of healthy eating.

Singh said sleep is “not an option” for her patients – it’s a requirement. Exercise is also critical in letting the brain clear out and refresh itself, she said.

“Honestly, exercise, if we could put it in a pill form, it would be the cure for everything,” she said.

PartnerSHIP 4 Health, a program active in Clay, Becker, Otter Tail and Wilkin counties, hosted Friday’s summit.