The Effects Of Exercise On Depression

By Delialah Falcon. May 7th 2016

Exercise has long been coveted as an effective way to boost your physical state and keep your body in top shape. Over the years, researchers have discovered that exercise is also beneficial to mental health. Engaging in regular exercise can help battle symptoms of depression and may be an effective, natural way to prevent depression from occurring. When you are depressed, it may take some time to get motivated, but exercise can lead to a significant improvement in symptoms of depression.

About Depression

Depression is a common mental illness that affects close to 19 million adults every year. People suffering from depression often have feelings of hopelessness. They may feel down even when there seems no reason to feel that way. Depressed people typically have the “blues” and have an overwhelming sense of self-defeat. These feelings tend to last for an extended period of time and can often begin to interfere with daily life and activities. When this happens, the person may be diagnosed as clinically depressed.

Effects Of Exercise On Depression

Research studies suggest that exercise may be a good alternative to antidepressant drugs in treating depression. Exercise can benefit mental health, but a depressed person may have some difficulty remaining motivated to continue an exercise regimen. The mental health benefits of exercise when related to depression are at optimum levels when the depressed person:

  • Engages in several weeks of regular exercise
  • performs the exercise more than a few times per week
  • Engages in more brisk, active exercise

Exercise can benefit mental health in similar ways to that of traditional treatment, producing the following outcomes:

  • Improved mood
  • Improved self- esteem
  • Improved sleep patterns
  • More positive responses to stress

How Exercise Can Help Depression

It is believed that exercise can help treat depression. Researchers have found that exercise can lessen anxiety and elevate mood. The correlation between exercise and depression is not completely clear, but depression may be positively affected by exercise for any of the following reasons:

  • Exercise boosts the body’s production of endorphins, which are responsible for elevating mood in a natural way. Neurotransmitters in the brain release these feel-good substances that help battle depression.
  • Exercise reduces the body’s production of immune system chemicals that can make depression symptoms worse.
  • Exercise elevates body temperature, which may have a soothing effect on the body.

The benefits of exercise also extend to psychological and emotional well-being. Exercise can have many positive effects including:

  • A boost in self-confidence
  • Distracting you from stressful thoughts
  • Promoting positive social interactions
  • Promoting a positive way to cope with stress and anxiety

Most Beneficial Types Of Exercise For Depression

Any type of exercise that fits an individual’s interests and abilities would be beneficial, as long as the exercise is engaged in regularly. Some suggested exercise choices for adults include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Bicycling
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Tennis
  • Water aerobics
  • Hiking
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Skateboarding
  • Basketball
  • Aerobics
  • Jumping rope
  • Martial arts
  • Gardening
  • Muscle strength training such as: yoga, push-ups, sit ups, weight training

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

Guidelines suggest that adults perform 150 minutes of exercise each week. This exercise should be of moderate intensity. If you do not currently exercise, it may be helpful to begin slowly and gradually work up to a full 150 minutes per week. Simply talking a brief walk may be enough to clear the mind and relieve stress. Remember, these are just guidelines, and any exercise activity that is performed at any frequency is better than none. To keep healthy it is recommended for adults to engage in 150 minutes of moderate exercise, however, this can be altered in the following ways:

  • 75 minutes of high intensity exercise and muscle strength training exercises 2 days per week
  • A mix of moderate and high intensity activity and 2 or more days of muscle strength training

Seeking Help From Your Doctor

Before beginning any exercise routine it is best to consult your doctor. Your doctor will be able to guide you in choosing the appropriate activities and the desired activity level to suit your needs and your physical capabilities. To come up with an appropriate exercise plan it may be helpful to:

  • Have a physical exam
  • Gain the support of you psychiatrist
  • Review all current medications with your provider
  • Identify any underlying health conditions

Tips For Getting Started

Once you’ve consulted with your doctor, it’s time to start your exercise plan. You may have questions about how you can get started and how you will stay motivated. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Figure out which type of exercise you like to do. If you do something you enjoy, you will be more likely to stay with it.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself. Be sure your activities coincide with your abilities.
  • Don’t’ think of exercise as a job or a chore. Try to imagine exercise as another tool to utilize in an effort to get well.
  • If you are self-conscious about exercising in the company of others, begin at home.
  • If you are not financially able to join a gym or purchase exercise equipment, do things that don’t cost any money, such as walking or jogging.
  • Be prepared for setbacks and don’t lose hope if you miss exercise for a day. Just start fresh tomorrow.

(For more helpful tips, see 10 Great Ways To Motivate Yourself To Exercise.)

Research suggests that exercise is an effective way to battle depression. Exercise helps boost endorphins in the brain, which promotes good feelings over the body. Speak to your doctor before beginning an exercise routine. If you find your symptoms of depression persist with regular exercise, consult your doctor or mental health professional. It is important to remember that while exercise is beneficial to sufferers of depression, it may not be a substitution for psychological counseling and medications.


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