Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions that Americans are impacted by, affecting one in ten adults.
Some of the symptoms of depression include:
- loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- feeling sad
- difficulty sleeping
- loss of energy
- difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
One of the primary treatment options for depression is medication, but exercise may prove to be just as effective as medicine in some cases.
The Effect of Exercise on the Body
Exercising offers many benefits to the body, such as lowering blood sugar, strengthening the heart, and encouraging oxygen transport through the body. However, exercise also provides a mood boost that just might be able to combat depression.
When you begin exercising, your body responds by releasing endorphins, which many consider to be your “feel-good” chemicals. A runner’s high is a common thing to hear in terms of exercise, and it occurs because of this release of chemicals. These chemicals are typically released through high-intensity workouts, but they are not the only way that exercise benefits you.
When completing low-intensity exercises, like walking, swimming, or riding a bike at an easy pace, the body releases proteins called growth factors. When released, these proteins encourage the nerve cells in the body to grow and form new connections.
This causes improvements in the brain’s functioning that help you feel better. Those with depression often have a smaller hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that helps regulate mood. When you exercise and, subsequently, release these proteins that encourage nerve cell growth, the hippocampus can grow. This may then help to relieve depression.
While this solution may be beneficial, it is not something you can do once and immediately feel a benefit. High-intensity workouts and the released endorphins that result may give you an immediate payoff, but they do not last. To build those new nerve cells and connections that promote long-term benefits, you need to exercise regularly for at least a few weeks before you may start noticing any improvements.
Exercising When Depressed
Many times, someone with depression may have a hard time exercising. There is often a lack of energy and motivation, even for something that you know will help. In these cases, it is best to start small. Pick any workout style and exercise for 5 minutes. As you keep up with it, you can gradually add more and more time to your workout.
Another way to make exercising more enjoyable is to choose an exercise type that you find fun. The types of workouts (e.g., yoga, running, swimming, weight lifting) are endless, and any kind of body movement will help you get these benefits, so long as you are consistent.
Exercising also helps to improve sleep quality, a problem that many of those with depression suffer from. So, while it might be hard to get started exercising because of fatigue, by starting small and building upyou may find that it is easier to fall and stay asleep, providing you more energy for your next workout.
It is important to know that exercise is not enough for some people, especially those with severe depression. It is always best to speak to a professional.
If you are interested in learning about additional treatments for depression, call Abbey Neuropsychology Clinic, and we can answer any questions you have.