Doing regular physical activity or a daily dose of exercise is a good way to help prevent or manage depression. There are many points of view on how exercise helps people with depression, even if the precise reasons are not clear. It is not yet known what kind of exercise or how much is better or if the benefits are lost if the exercise is stopped.
The links between depression, anxiety and exercise are not entirely clear, but exercise and other forms of physical activity can certainly relieve the symptoms of depression or anxiety and make you feel better. Exercise can also help prevent depression and anxiety from returning once you feel better.
So, how does exercise help depression and anxiety?
- Releasing feel-good endorphins, natural brain chemicals similar to cannabis (endogenous cannabinoids) and other natural brain chemicals that can improve your sense of well-being
- Relaxes your mind from worries to get away from the cycle of negative thoughts that fuel depression and anxiety
Regular exercise also has many psychological and emotional benefits. It can help you:
- Earn Confidence Meeting the goals or challenges of the exercise, even the smallest ones, can increase self-confidence. Getting fit can also make you feel better about your appearance.
- Get more social interaction. Exercise and physical activity can give you the opportunity to meet or socialize with others. Just exchange a friendly smile or a greeting while walking in your neighborhood can help your mood.
- Cope in a healthy way. Doing something positive to control depression or anxiety is a healthy coping strategy. Trying to feel better when drinking alcohol, insisting on how you feel or expecting that depression or anxiety to go away on your own can worsen your symptoms.
In general terms, staying active can:
- Help in raising your mood through a better condition
- Help in improving your sleep patterns
- Increase energy levels
- Can help in blocking negative thoughts or distract people from everyday worries
- Help people feel less alone if they train with others.
- Can change levels of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, endorphins and stress hormones.
- Helps in preventing a range of health problems, such as hypertension, diabetes and arthritis.
Is Exercising the Only Option?
Some research shows that physical activity, such as walking regularly, not just formal training programs, can help improve your mood any time. Physical activity and exercise are not the same, but both are health benefits.
Physical activity is any activity that works the muscles and requires energy and can include work, domestic or leisure activities.
Exercise is a planned, structured and repetitive body movement performed to improve or maintain physical fitness.
The word “exercise” can make you think about running in the gym. But the exercise includes a wide range of activities that increase your level of activity to help you feel better.
Undoubtedly, running, lifting weights, playing basketball and other physical activities that make the heart pump can help. But physical activity can also be done, such as gardening, washing the car, walking around the block or participating in other less intense activities. Any physical activity that takes you away from the couch and moves you can help you improve your mood.
You do not have to do all your exercise or another physical activity at the same time. Expand your exercise opinion and learn how to add small amounts of physical activity during the day. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little farther from work to walk briefly. Or, if you live close to your job, consider cycling to work.
How much exercise is enough?
Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for 3-5 days a week can significantly improve the symptoms of depression or anxiety. But small amounts of physical activity, 10 to 15 minutes at a time, can make the difference. It may take less time to practice to improve your mood when more vigorous activities such as running or cycling take place.
The mental health benefits of exercise and physical activity can last only if they are maintained in the long run, another good reason to focus on finding the activities you like.
Starting and following a routine exercise or regular physical activity can be a challenge. These steps can help:
Identify what you like to do. Find out what kind of physical activities you’re most likely to do and think about when and how you’re most likely to follow. For example, are you more likely to do some gardening in the afternoon, start the day jogging or cycling or play basketball with your kids after school? Do what you like to help you continue with that.
Get the support of your mental health professional. Consult your doctor or mental health professional for assistance and support. Discuss an exercise program or physical activity routine and how it fits into the general treatment plan.
Set reasonable goals. Your mission does not have to walk for an hour, five days a week. Think realistically about what you can do and start gradually. Adapt your plan to your needs and abilities instead of setting unrealistic models that you will hardly find.
Do not think about physical exercise or physical activity as a routine task. If the exercise is just another “should” in your life that you do not plan to do, you will associate it with failure. Instead, look at your exercise or physical activity program the same way you do therapy or therapy sessions, as one of the tools to help you improve.
Analyze your barriers Find out what prevents you from being physically active or exercising. If you feel shy, for example, you may want to exercise at home. If you travel better with a partner, find a friend to work with or have fun with the same physical activities. If you do not have money to spend on sports equipment, do something without cost, such as walking regularly. If you think about what prevents you from being physically active or exercising, you can probably find an alternative solution.
Prepare for setbacks and obstacles. Give credit for every step in the right direction, no matter how small. If you skip the exercise one day, it does not mean you can not maintain a routine exercise and you may even stop doing it. Try again the next day. Stay with that.
Consult your doctor before starting a new training program to make sure it is safe for you. Talk to your doctor to find out what activities, how much exercise and what level of intensity is right for you. Your doctor will consider any medication you take and your health condition. He or she can also have useful tips on how to get started and stay motivated.
If you train regularly, but symptoms of depression or anxiety still interfere with your daily life, consult your doctor or mental health professional. Exercise and physical activity are great ways to relieve symptoms of depression or anxiety, but they are not a substitute for talk therapy or medication.