Beating the Blues with Exercise

Depression can be a debilitating disorder with 1 in 5 people suffering with the illness at one time or another in their life.

There are many different treatments for depression from antidepressant medication to experienced counseling and cognitive therapies. All treatment plans claim to help a high percentage of individuals. Some treatments are slightly more beneficial than others, due to the fact that different people respond more favorably to some treatment plans than others. The surprise package appears to be exercise, in some cases equaling many of the more conventional methods.

More and more studies are emerging showing the positive effects that regular exercise has on people suffering from depression. Here are a few theories on how exercise positively effects one’s mind.

Exercise can increase a persons self-confidence, giving them a feeling of accomplishment and mastery of new skills.

In a group or team environment, exercise can build confidence interacting with others, give a sense of belonging and importance.

As fitness and skill levels improve, exercise can assist in progressive goal setting.

Feeling too tired to do any thing is a common complaint amongst sufferers of depression, exercise increases energy levels and the desire to participate.

If body weight is of concern and a contributor to poor mental health, exercise should be encourage as it is a main component of any successful weight loss plan.

For an improvement in general wellbeing you can‘t go past exercise, when people feel well [healthy] they tend to participate more in life.

Exercise can be a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, as fitness and the sense of wellbeing improves then so does the desire to do something.

Low self-esteem and low energy levels in people suffering from depression can translate to low levels of physical activities designed at improving health. Exercise should therefore be a prime focus to maintain and or improve both physical and psychological health.

Currently researches are studying the various ways exercise alters people’s moods through the effects on the brains neurotransmitters. The main two neurotransmitters are beta-endorphins and serotonin. Put very simply these neurotransmitters are responsible for mood control and the euphoric state known as “runners high”.

It is common for doctors to rely on drugs to balance these neurotransmitters, however some studies indicate exercise has demonstrated similar effects.

Another theory that may hold part of the answer to how exercise helps people suffering from depression is the idea of diversion. Exercise can distract people away from painful thoughts and stimuli causing a beneficial decline in anxiety and depression.

So which exercises are the best?

There doesn’t appear to be one type of exercise that is more effective than another. Studies have shown aerobic activity, strength training and flexibility exercises all prove effective in treating depression.

A recent study showed that people who walked 3-5 days a week for only 30-35 minutes had an improvement of nearly 50% in depressive symptoms, which is similar to outcomes for people treated with antidepressant or cognitive therapy. It is important to note that whatever exercise is prescribed, it must be one that is enjoyable and not difficult to do, otherwise adherence to exercise will be difficult.

We are constantly learning more about how exercise benefits all areas of our lives including depression. The above information is not to retract from seeking professional help from a qualified counselor or medical practitioner, but to assist in a positive outcome.