Exercise and Depression

depressionIt has been well documented that physical exercise can help with mild-moderate forms of depression. Doctors can prescribe exercise but it seems far easier and more common for them to prescribe anti-depressants. Yet there is a growing body of evidence on the benefits of exercise (not just to mental health but to your general wellbeing!).

Structured strength training with weights and cardiovascular exercise show the best results but any form of exercise has benefits, particularly those with social interaction like playing basketball with friends. Benefits include:

  • Improved immune system
  • Increase in endorphins and neurostransmitters (feel good chemicals in the brain)
  • Social interaction
  • Forgetting about your worries (if only during the activity)
  • Improved confidence (as you progress over time)

Although we don’t know the exact science as to why exercise can help new studies have shown that skeletal muscles release an enzyme that clears away chemicals linked to stress and depression.

So what can you do? Here is a quick list of some exercise methods that have been shown to help combat depression:

  • Lifting weights
  • Yoga
  • Running
  • Martial arts
  • Walking
  • Any sports (football, tennis, swimming etc)

runNone of this is an instant fix – you can’t suddenly run for 20 minutes and instantly be cured. I’m afraid that’s not how it works. You might feel a little happier or less anxious for a while and that’s the point. The more you do it the more you will reap the benefits. Some studies show that it is not duration or intensity that matters but frequency. So the more often you do it the more you will gain. However, proceed slowly especially if you have not done much sport recently. You will end up feeling worse if you spring into action just to pull a hamstring and be put off exercise even more.

Find something that you think you will enjoy, perhaps with friends. And just do it once. Did it feel good? Did you have fun? Then find a way to commit to more and do it again.