Exercise and Depression

How Exercise Helps with depression?
by Raquel Torres

Did you know that a simple 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week can boost your mood, improve your sleep, and help you deal with depression, anxiety, stress, and more.

When you have depression or anxiety, exercise often seems like the last thing you want to do. But once you get motivated, exercise can make a big difference.

Recent statistics show that 1 in 5 adults in the United States struggles with depression, and antidepressant medications are a common way to treat the condition. However, pills aren’t the only solution. Research shows that exercise is also an effective treatment. “For some people it works better than antidepressants, although exercise alone isn’t enough for someone with severe depression,” says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression,” explains Dr. Miller.

Recent Mayo Clinic research results show that working out and other forms of physical activity definitely ease symptoms of depression or anxiety and make you feel relaxed and happier. Exercise may also help keep depression and anxiety from coming back once you’re feeling better. Below is more about Mayo Clinic investigations.

Is a structured exercise program the only option? – Many research shows that physical activity such as regular walking — not just formal exercise programs — improves mood. Physical activity and exercise are not the same thing, but both are beneficial to your health.

Physical activity is any activity that works your muscles and requires energy and can include work or household or leisure activities.
Exercise is a planned, structured and repetitive body movement done to improve or maintain physical fitness.

10/17/16 – Kalamazoo, Michigan: Raquel Torres. © Chris McGuire Photography.

Regular exercise may help ease depression and anxiety by:

● Releasing feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals (endogenous cannabinoids) and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being
● Taking your mind off worries so you can get away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety

People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives.

Regular exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits, too. It can help you:

● Gain confidence. Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence.
● Get more social interaction. Just exchanging a friendly smile or greeting as you walk around your neighborhood can help your mood.
● Cope in a healthy/smart way. Doing something positive to manage depression or anxiety is a healthy coping strategy.

The challenge of getting started

Depression manifests physically by causing disturbed sleep, reduced energy, appetite changes, body aches, and increased pain perception, all of which can result in less motivation to exercise. It’s a hard cycle to break, but experts say getting up and moving just a little bit will help a lot. Start with five minutes a day of walking or any activity you enjoy. Soon, five minutes of activity will become 10, and 10 will become 30.

What you can do

It’s unclear how long you need to exercise, or how intensely, before nerve cell improvement begins alleviating depression symptoms. You should begin to feel better a few weeks after you begin exercising. But this is a long-term treatment, not a one-time fix.

Experts suggest picking something you can sustain over time. The key is to make it something you like and something that you’ll want to keep doing.

Raquel Torres, MBA is a USAT Elite Certified Coach, Professional Triathlon Coach and Professional Triathlete. Raquel also writes blogs for several magazines and her team Athletic Mentors. Since May 2021 she contributes as a columnist with CNY Latino Newspaper. She shares true life stories with her experiences, also tips and tactics that helps anyone to be their best version. To read about her, head over to cnylatinonewspaper.com and search for her by her name. You can also send questions or comments about her column to the following email: raquel@athleticmentors.com and go to her website at www.raqueltorres.org

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