Navigating daily life with depression is almost like trying to find your way through heavy fog. It’s hard to see things clearly and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the weight of the clouds.
It’s a struggle to go to school, work… even to get out of bed.
Needless to say, working out is probably the last thing you feel like doing. But can exercise help with depression? Yes, actually – several studies have shown that people who work out regularly benefit with an improved mood and lower overall rates of depression.
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6 Ways Exercise Helps Fight Depression
There are many different physical and psychological benefits of exercise that may help treat depression. Here are just a few:
1) Produces Endorphins & Other Important Brain Chemicals
Depression is typically caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. For whatever reason, your brain just isn’t producing enough “feel-good” chemicals or serotonin to distribute them.
But when you exercise, your body releases a surge of brain chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins communicate with the sensor receptors in your brain and work to reduce your sensation of pain – reducing feelings of depression.
2) Reduces Immune System Chemicals
There are many unpleasant side effects of depression, and extreme tiredness is one of them. The clinical name for this is hypersomnia and it is thought to be caused by interleukin, an immune system chemical.
This is because your immune system has to work harder to try to overcome the physical effects depression has on the body, resulting in an excess production of interleukin.
Fortunately, getting up and getting moving can restore balance to your immune system chemicals and help overcome hypersomnia. Several different studies have shown that high levels of hypersomnia decrease with exercise.
3) Raises Body Temperature
There’s a reason we feel inclined to take hot showers instead of cold showers. It’s the same reason that saunas are such a hot commodity at spas and wellness centers – heat is relaxing.
As our body temperature rises, this increases blood flow throughout our body which reduces tension, loosens muscles and leaves us feeling calm and relaxed.
Exercise is a great way to work up a sweat and promote blood flow. And although the act of exercising isn’t necessarily the most relaxing thing in the world – the tranquil after effects are well worth it.
4) Boosts Confidence
Exercise is good for your body – and it makes you feel good about your body. Reaching exercise goals helps build self-confidence. Those goals don’t even have to include major weight loss; they could be as simple as making it to the gym three days a week.
But that’s not to say getting in shape isn’t worthwhile – shedding just a few pounds or building muscle definition can help fight depression with elevated feelings of self-worth.
5) Encourages Social Interaction
Depression can make it easy to withdraw from the world. And while exercise can technically be done all on your own, it’s also something that can easily be performed in a group setting or public place.
Take a group fitness class, visit a busy gym or go for a walk on a frequently traveled trail. You don’t have to have a permanent workout partner or an in-depth conversation with the person on the elliptical next to you to experience the social benefits of exercise.
All it takes is a friendly smile or a simple “hello” to make you feel welcome and wanted.
6) Instills Healthy Coping Skills
It can be all too easy to get sucked into unhealthy habits when battling depression. Drinking alcohol, binge eating, becoming a recluse or dwelling on how bad you feel might provide some temporary relief – but they will eventually lead to worsening symptoms.
Instead, developing healthy coping mechanisms will allow you to manage your depression or anxiety in more effective ways.
The Best Types of Exercise for Depression
Not all exercises are created equal. Some are more beneficial for treating depression and alleviating symptoms. Here are a few exercises to try:
1) Running or Jogging at a Moderate Pace
When it comes to treating depression, aerobic and cardio exercises appear to have the edge. You’ve probably heard the term “runner’s high” before. That refers to the post-run euphoria that comes from the rush of endorphins in the brain as a response to physical activity.
But it doesn’t mean you have to start all-out sprinting and running marathon distances to feel the benefits. Start out jogging at an easy pace. Alternate your pace – run two city blocks and then walk one to recover. As you build your stamina, it will get easier.
2) Strength Training
When you’re depressed, it may feel as though everything in your life is spiraling out of your control. Strength training may help to restore some balance by giving you a sense of command and mastery.
It requires concentration, total dedication and it puts you in charge of your own progress. Start out slowly – use light weights and 10 -15 repetitions of each exercise. As you get stronger, you can increase the weights and lower your reps.
Studies have shown that yoga can help relieve depression and anxiety. This is probably due to the fact that it contains meditative components which help break up negative thoughts and improve overall moods.
If you want to try yoga, start out by taking a beginner’s class. This will help you to learn the movements, form and flow. Check online for free classes in your community.
4) Home or Yard Work
If you can’t make it to a fitness class or to the gym, the least you can do is get up and get moving. Have yard work to do? A healthy dose of sunlight may help raise serotonin levels. And if it’s too cold to go outside, do a little cleaning or organizing around your home. De-cluttering a closet or cupboard may help to reduce stress and enhance your mood.
Can Exercise Help With Depression?
Depression can be very hard to deal with – but not dealing with it will only make things worse. Exercise can help relieve some symptoms and it’s a healthy way to cope with what you’re going through. This is because it helps release endorphins, improve blood flow, build confidence and encourages you to get out of the house.
But you don’t have to suddenly start straining yourself with rigorous workouts in order to experience the benefits. You can go for a walk/run around the block, lift light weights, try a free yoga class or even just do some work around the home or yard.
Whatever exercise you choose, keep in mind that it might not be easy the first time you do it… but it will get better. And most importantly, it will make you feel better.