Whether you’re suffering from intense bouts of depression that flare up every now and then or you have a chronic condition of depression that doesn’t respond well to drugs or therapy, things can seem pretty hopeless. If prescribed treatments aren’t working, it might help to change some of your lifestyle behaviors and patterns. For example, exercise for depression is a tool that can make a difference in the mind and the body of a depressed person. Physical activity releases endorphins into your bloodstream, affecting the brain and how it processes things like stress, emotions and fear. When you exercise regularly, you might be less likely to get depressed.
Exercise for Depression vs. Antidepressants
Scientific studies have shown that regular exercise might even be more effective in managing depression than antidepressants. The most important finding in this particular study is that using exercise for depression contributed to positive results that lasted longer than antidepressants. The effects of exercise stay with you, helping you to manage your current depression and also warding off the potential for any future depression to settle in. When you use exercise to overcome depression and you continue to use this healthy regimen, there is less of a chance that you will relapse back into depression in the short term and the long term. That’s a very good reason to get you moving.
Endorphins are chemicals that are produced by your nervous system. They circulate throughout your body and play a major role in how you perceive pain. Many people call them the “feel good” chemicals because they do actually make you feel good about yourself. They improve your mood and when your body tells your mind to feel good, everything else really falls into place. You need a steady supply of endorphins flowing through your bloodstream if you want to stay positive and focused. Depression is not necessarily caused by a low production level of endorphins, but scientists know that exercise for depression is helpful because they exercise increase the endorphin output. Think of endorphins as an antidepressant that the body produces on its own.
Exercise for Depression: Chemical Reactions
In addition to increasing the amount of endorphin output that’s achieved, using exercise for depression has a number of other chemical reactions. There’s a dramatic increase of blood flow to the brain, which can elicit both a mental and a physical response, helping people to ignore an otherwise bad or destructive mood. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin are released as well, lifting your brain out of a potentially depressed state.
There is also something called the brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This is a naturally occurring chemical in your body that protects brain health and has an impact on memory. People who struggle with depression often have reduced levels of this neurotransmitter. When you exercise for depression, this level is also elevated, helping your brain to stay healthier, keeping your memories intact and yes – healing the wounds that can often turn a healthy person into a depressed person.
While all exercise for depression is helpful, it turns out group exercise might be especially beneficial. In 2009, a study revealed that a crew team that rowed together experienced a rush in endorphins that was much stronger than it was for those team members who rowed alone. These athletes were able to increase their tolerance for pain, just because they were involved in a group exercise activity. For you, this research means that you have even more to gain if you exercise in the company of others. You may want to join a gym or take an aerobics class or start playing a team sport.
Exercise for Depression: Other Benefits
In addition to helping you battle depression, getting in enough exercise will bring you other major health benefits. It will help you manage your weight and stay healthy, which can directly relate to depression. It also relieves stress and anxiety, which are often found in people who are depressed. Exercise for depression keeps your heart healthy and contributes to fighting off the risk for cancer and other diseases. These are significant benefits that decrease your likelihood for becoming depressed.
If you want to make a serious effort to use exercise for depression, it’s a good idea to try and incorporate at least 40 minutes of physical activity into three days of your weekly schedule. Initiating and maintaining a fitness schedule that works for you can have a major impact on your physical and mental health. When you choose an exercise for depression, make sure it’s an activity you love doing. If you hate the gym, go for a brisk walk or try swimming laps. Take a yoga class or try Zumba. Beating your depression doesn’t have to involve pills and drugs. Give exercise for depression a try and see if it helps you feel better.