Exercise: A Great Fighter of Depression

exerciseExercise: It has no side effects and is great for your mental and physical wellbeing in every respect.[1] Many studies have found that people who exercise regularly benefit greatly with a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression.[2]

A key psychological benefit of regular physical activity is improved self-esteem.2 When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which interact with receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.2 Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in your body that is similar to that of morphine—without the addiction and dependence.2 Runners and fitness nuts often describe their exercise sessions as “euphoric” which come with a positive and energizing outlook on life.2

Regular exercise reduces stress, wards off anxiety and depression, boosts self-esteem, and improves sleep.2 Regarding health benefits, there are many! Exercise strengthens your heart, increases your energy levels, lowers blood pressure, improves muscle tone and strength, strengthens and builds bone, and helps reduce body fat.2

Exercise is an effective, yet often underused, treatment for mild to moderate depression.2 However, when you are feeling down, it can be extremely hard to motivate yourself to get moving.1 A good way to start an exercise habit is to begin with small, no-stress goals.1 Set a small, easily achievable goal and do it.1 Don’t think about anything larger than that goal and do nothing more than reach that goal.1 This will help prove to yourself that you are capable.1 Then, slowly scale up your goals.1 The effects of exercise and the results you will see will help you find the motivation over time.

When you begin your exercise journey, start off small.1 Put on your running shoes and walk to the mailbox and back to your house.1 Done! A couple of days after that, walk to the end of the block and back.1 Take the next step and walk to a nearby store and browse before walking home.1 By working your way up, you are showing yourself that you can achieve the goals you set—and you should feel proud for doing it!1

Any form of exercise can help depression.2 You could bike, dance, garden, golf, jog, play tennis, swim, walk, do yard work or housecleaning, try yoga, or even aerobics.2 Social support is important for those with depression, so joining a group exercise class would also be very beneficial.2 If not, grab a friend and do something active.2 The emotional comfort of someone supporting you will help with the motivation to continue.2

What exercise is right for you? Ask yourself these questions:2

  • What physical activities do I enjoy?
  • Do I prefer group or individual activities?
  • What programs best fit my schedule?
  • Do I have physical conditions that limit my choice of exercise?
  • What goals do I have in mind? (weight loss, toning, improving flexibility, mood enhancement, etc.)

While most people can just get up and go, some, especially those over 50 or those with a medical condition, should always contact their health care provider before beginning an exercise regimen.2

If you are good to go, try to exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes three times per week.2 Stick with one program, be it walking or yoga or whatever you have chosen, and when you begin to get comfortable, start varying your exercise times and activities.2

Some last tips:2

  • Exercising should be fun!
  • Put your exercise routine into your schedule/calendar.
  • Variety is the spice of life.
  • Don’t break the bank to exercise—there are tons of free ways to get moving.
  • Stick with it.
  • Don’t over exert yourself.

[1] Cowan, G. (2013). How to Exercise When Depressed — Even if You Prefer Staying in Bed. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/11/25/how-to-exercise-when-depressed-even-if-you-prefer-staying-in-bed/

[2] Goldberg, J. (2012, July 23). Exercise and Depression: Endorphins, Reducing Stress, and More. WebMD. Retrieved November 26, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression?page=2

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