Can exercise help you beat—or at least treat—depression?
Depression goes beyond feeling sad. Depression is a serious illness. It's a brain disorder most likely caused by a "combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors," states the National Institute of Mental Health. It can turn your world inside out and upside down. However, there is help and hope.
Depression can be treated with medications and psychotherapy. Additionally, several studies have been conducted about the relationship between exercise and depression. We know that exercise can be instrumental in the prevention of conditions such as hypertension and heart disease, but daily exercise may also help reduce depression and anxiety.
The exercise-depression link. Exercise releases endorphins, which move throughout your body. Endorphins aid your immune system, but they may also serve to boost your mood, according to the Harvard Medical School. Harvard reports there's a theory that "exercise stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which may directly improve mood." In addition to the endorphins released during exercise, your body's core temperature increases when you work out, which may relieve anxiety.
Ways exercise can help depression. The Mayo Clinic lists four psychological and emotional benefits of exercise, which can help with depression. These include increased confidence, temporary escape from worries, an opportunity for social interaction and a simple but healthy way to cope with the illness.
Lasting effects of exercise. In studies, depression patients who incorporated daily exercise into their lives experienced several positive effects. Regarding a study at Duke University, Dr. James Blumenthal states, "Patients who exercised may have felt a greater sense of mastery over their condition and gained a greater sense of accomplishment." It becomes a positive cycle. Once the exercise begins to help you feel better, you want to exercise more. By maintaining the routine, you reduce your depression symptoms and continue to feel better.
What kind of exercise helps? Any exercise that gets you up and moving is recommended. Walking 35 minutes at least five days a week can help with depression symptoms. A 60-minute brisk walk, three times a week, can help as well. Yoga and group exercise classes can also be beneficial, giving you a group activity to look forward to each week. Before starting any exercise routine, consult with your physician. He or she may be able to recommend local programs that will fit your personal needs.