Huw Edwards health: Newsreader overcame depression using exercise – ‘You’re crackers!’

Queen's Speech: Huw Edwards discusses 'remarkable' monarch

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As well as presenting the News at Ten, 60-year-old Edwards has also contributed to a range of other BBC news programmes including the Breakfast News and Panorama. His lengthy and successful career has led to him winning a BAFTA Cymru Award for Best Onscreen Presenter an impressive six times. But in an interview last year, Edwards warned viewers that after 20 years in “the nightly news business” he doesn’t think he will “be doing [it] for long” before he hands over the baton to someone new. As well as the taxing job, Edwards has spoken openly about his battle with depression, which started shortly after his father passed away from testicular cancer.

Naively returning to work shortly after burying his late father, Edwards soon noticed that he began to put on weight, meaning he was not only struggling mentally but physically as well.

“You comfort eat,” Edwards said in a 2020 interview. “Honestly, it’s like a drug. I’d eat when I wasn’t hungry.

“I wasn’t doing any fitness. I was grazing, watching telly and eating stuff, even though I didn’t need it, which I’d not done before.

“And there are the things that come with it. You don’t feel good about yourself. It was combined with a feeling increasingly that I hadn’t properly come to terms with losing my dad. It was all still there and I thought, ‘This is six years on, what’s going on here?’”

Realising that his health was deteriorating more than he thought, it was after Edwards was left unable to breathe and “sweating profusely” after running for a train at Paddington station that he decided enough was enough, and stepped on the scales.

He added: “I was 16½st. I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ And then my mum said, ‘Oh well, you know, your dad weighed 16½st.’ And I really thought, ‘Oh my God.’

“That started to ring alarm bells. So I got back to London. I hate running, I hate swimming, but Vicky [his wife] said, ‘Oh, I’ve seen there’s a boxing gym in Herne Hill. I’ve actually been in to see the trainer.’

“I said, ‘You’re crackers. I’m not boxing.’ Punching people. It’s not me.”

With the help of his trainer and former boxing pro Clinton McKenzie, Edwards started training three mornings a week, an intense workout schedule that helped him lose three stone in weight.

The journalist also keeps in mind a crucial piece of advice that McKenzie told him when the pair first started training: “Eat sensibly. If you want a pint or a glass of wine, that’s fine. Just don’t overdo it and don’t eat’ – in his words – ‘sugary s***.’ ”

Since taking up boxing and keeping physically fit, Edwards commented on his own personal transformation from feeling “helpless” and suffering from depression, to becoming more “mentally robust”.

Symptoms of depression, which individuals can experience daily, can include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment.

Although not everyone will experience all of the above symptoms, for some, depression can also co-occur with other serious medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease, which are often made worse when depression is present.

The NHS explains that suffering from depression can leave individuals feeling low in energy, but regular exercise can act to boost their mood, especially for those suffering with mild to moderate depression.

It is recommended that the average adult should do between 75 and 150 minutes of exercise a week, which can range from moderate intensity exercise such as walking or hiking, to more vigorous exercise such as running, swimming or aerobics. The Mental Health Foundation adds that any exercise that raises your heart rate, makes you breathe faster, and makes you feel warmer counts towards your exercise.

One study published in the National Library of Medicine by Lynette L Craft and Frank M Perna, where participants took part in interval training – specifically on a machine known as a cycle ergometer, for four times a week, 30 minutes per session for six weeks – found that aerobic training was associated with a clear reduction in depression compared with the control condition, and the improvements in depression were maintained for three months after the study had finished.

Similarly, another study found that 30 minutes of treadmill walking for 10 consecutive days was sufficient to produce a statistically significant reduction in depression. Both of these results point to the fact that the benefits of exercise on mental health not only exist, but can be long lasting.

In addition to exercise, research has also found that sticking to a healthy diet can also have a positive lasting impact on mental health. In fact, an analysis of data from almost 46,000 people has found that weight loss, nutrient boosting and fat reduction diets can all reduce the symptoms of depression.

In the study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, Dr Joseph Firth – an Honorary Research fellow at The University of Manchester and Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University –brought together all existing data from clinical trials of diets for mental health conditions.

The study found that all types of dietary improvement appeared to have equal effects on mental health, with weight loss, fat reduction or nutrient-improving diets all having similar benefits for depressive symptoms.

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