There have been many studies conducted that have shown that exercise can boost one’s mood and that it can lower the rate of depression. An article at time.com titled "Is Exercise the Best Drug for Depression?" by Laura Blue indicates that in multiple trials, patients performing aerobic exercise routines have seen “improvement in their depression comparable to that of those treated with medication, and that both groups do better than patients given only a placebo.” The results also seem to indicate that exercise “not only relieves depressive symptoms but also appears to prevent them from recurring.” Tests to date, however, have been small and were run only
for relatively short time periods.
Although exercise might be a preferred substitute for antidepressants for those not wanting to take medication, it can take longer for the benefits of exercise to kick in. It can also be a challenge to stay motivated to put in the time and effort to exercise when one is depressed.
While it is widely accepted that exercise helps depression, there are many theories as to exactly how it works. Some believe that the benefits for depressed people are basically an extension of the overall advantages derived by anyone who exercises. An article at about.com titled "Exercise and Depression: How to get up and get moving," by Paige Waehner lists a number of such benefits for people,
including that it increases energy, self-esteem, and a sense of mastery which helps you feel more in control of your life. Waehner adds that exercise also fights "mild to moderate depression because it...
** Provides a distraction from your worries;
** Improves your health and body, which can help lift your mood;
** Helps you get rid of built-up stress and frustration;
** Helps you sleep better, which can often be a problem when you're
Other specialists talk about how exercise affects brain chemicals. Exercise causes your body to release endorphins, “feel-good” chemicals that interact with receptors in the brain and which can elicit a “runners high,” a feeling of euphoria that is sometimes experienced after a workout or a run.
The time.com article previously cited tells us that “exercise may alter brain chemistry in much the same way that antidepressant drugs do —
regulating the key neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine,” and that “over the course of several weeks, exercise can switch on certain genes that increase the brain's level of galanin, a peptide neurotransmitter that appears to tone down the body's stress response by regulating another brain chemical, norepinephrine.” I won’t pretend to understand all of that, but I’m assuming it"s a good thing.
So what kind of exercise should we do? How often should we do it, and for what length of time? That would be a great discussion to have with your doctor. And seeing your doctor is a great idea for any time you begin an exercise regimen if you have not been very active previously.
Other things to consider:
Exercise outdoors if possible. There are many benefits to exercising outdoors if the weather and climate are amenable to doing so. In a previous post, I talked about some of the advantages of being outdoors. It may be a good time to reread that post for more information.
Find an activity you enjoy doing. If exercise becomes tedious and boring, what are the chances of sticking to it? There are so many options available to us, that something should strike our fancy. My exercise of choice right now is CrossFit, mostly because my fitness coach daughter gives me one-on-one training. I also get a kick out of how CrossFit is viewed from the outside. A Wikipedia article states that “Many [CrossFit] athletes and trainers see themselves as part of a contrarian, insurgent movement that questions conventional fitness wisdom.” I don’t really see myself or my daughter as being contrarian or insurgent, although we both may be a little unconventional. But I get to feel kind of bad-ass when I tell people I do CrossFit.
Set realistic goals. None of us got into the condition we are in overnight. We may have to start out slowly at first, and it may take time to see the benefits. So we shouldn’t set ourselves up with high expectations of immediately feeling better or of immediately getting fit.
Exercise is a very proactive undertaking for those of us dealing with depression. A bit challenging to follow through on, but the results can be pretty far-reaching. On the plus side: there are no “side effects” unless you are already predisposed to injury or ill health, it can be inexpensive, and it not only helps your mental health, but improves your physical health as well. So let’s get moving, get that heart beating and those brain chemicals flowing.
I’ll race you to the gym.