By Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D.
Depression has reached truly epidemic levels around the globe, with more people everyday falling victim to its effects. According to MentalHealthAmerica.net, depression “affects more than 19 million Americans every year, regardless of age, race, or gender.” A severely debilitating mental illness for millions of sufferers all around the world, depression has claimed many lives. Some who suffer from depression choose to take anti-depressant medication to combat their symptoms, while others feel that the side-effects related to the medication will only add to their difficulties coping with the problem in the long run.
Similar to many other serious and long-lasting issues that affect one’s mental and/or physical wellbeing, there is unfortunately no “quick-fix” to help a sufferer tolerate their symptoms. However, one of the many useful ways to deal with depression finds it roots in staying healthy, active, and exercising on a regular basis. In fact, a Harvard study dating back to 1981 stated that “regular exercise can improve mood in people with mild to moderate depression. It also may play a supporting role in treating severe depression.”
The ADAA (Anxiety & Depression Association of America) says that exercise is “vital for maintaining mental fitness and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function.” Although many people who suffer from depression will suffer from a lack of energy or drive to work out, the key is to start small and then gradually augment the amount of exercise you do over time.
Regardless of your age or amount of experience when it comes to different forms of exercise, one way to ease the symptoms of depression is to go on a walk. Since walking does not require you to exercise to excess or in any way tire yourself out, a leisurely, undemanding walk is perfect for anyone who is not particularly conversant (or enthusiastic) about the notion of exercising or visiting a gym. Walking is ideal since it gets you off the couch and out into the fresh air, as well as helping you to take that all-important first step on the road to leading an active life; each walk can be as slow and unchallenging or as fast and furious as you want, and you can always start off slowly and then progressively increase your pace as your levels of enjoyment rise.
Another benefit to going walking is that it makes you go out into your community, which means you will see things you have never seen before if you have been reticent to explore your nearby surroundings. Seeing new neighborhoods or communal park areas will pull focus away from your symptoms; any form of exercise can help to ease depression because, at its very core, you are busy distracting yourself. A simple walk can stop you from thinking about the negative feelings that systematically haunt you, and exercise in general can help you “lose” your feelings of unhappiness. In effect, simply going for a walk or doing a workout at the gym can help build self-confidence while also interrupting your negative thought processes.
During extended periods of physical activity, your body releases endorphins that help to alleviate symptoms of depression. Other than walking, these types of exercise can include jogging, running, swimming, aerobics, bicycling, yoga and, for those who already enjoy going to the gym, a weight-lifting session can be highly effective. The Mayo Clinic says that “30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week can significantly improve depression symptoms.” Resistance training can also help reduce depression-related symptoms.
Working out helps to tire your body; this also means that the probability of you being able to fall asleep is much more likely. This is especially important to sufferers who notice that they begin experiencing symptoms of depression when they fall asleep. Whenever possible, get at least seven solid hours of sleep, and always follow a fixed sleeping pattern that you do not deviate from. Always keep your bedroom as cool and silent as possible, and try to eliminate bothersome distractions that impede you from visiting dreamland. As a final point, eat well-balanced meals and never overindulge when it comes to fast food, candy, alcohol or caffeine.
As TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com states, depression “affects about 10% of all people at one time or another,” so it is essential that you do whatever is at your disposal to fight the serious symptoms that can begin to occupy or overwhelm your state of mind. As such, the power of exercise and keeping fit should never be undervalued, since it can help boost your mood as well as also keeping you feeling both motivated and optimistic about the future.
Depression (Major Depressive Disorder). Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495?pg=2. Accessed July 8, 2014.
Depression and African Americans. Mental Health America. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-and-african-americans. Accessed July 8, 2014.
Entin, E. Exercise AS a Treatment for Depression. The Doctor Will See You Now. http://www.thedoctorwillseeyounow.com/content/depression/art4050.html. Accessed July 8, 2014.
Exercise for Stress and Anxiety. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety. Accessed July 8, 2014.
Exercise and Depression. Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Exercise-and-Depression-report-excerpt.html. Accessed July 8, 2014.