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Is Exercise A Viable Treatment For Depression?

two ladies walking for exercise

Exercise has long been viewed as being beneficial for physical health, but in recent years there has been increasing interest in using it as an effective, natural treatment option for mental health issues like depression.

I have noticed that many people who seek treatment in our clinic aren’t aware that exercise can improve their mental well-being. They might view it as a stress reliever or know that they “should” exercise for their overall health, but they don’t have any idea that this form of treatment can be worth considering alongside more traditional therapeutic strategies.

What Is Depression And What Are Its Symptoms?

Depression affects both the young and old alike. While it can vary in intensity, depression generally produces feelings of hopelessness, listlessness, or worthlessness.

People who are depressed might also have difficulty concentrating, sleeping problems, irritability, changes in weight or appetite, or experience fatigue and a lack of motivation. Sometimes these feelings can become so intense that they impact daily life.

While some people can experience depression acutely, others might struggle with chronic low-level symptoms over an extended period of time. Being aware of potential warning signs is the first step in getting help and finding support.

Why Does Physical Activity Improve Mental Health?

Exercise has a wide range of positive benefits for mental health, from boosting moods to decreasing stress and anxiety levels. It increases chemicals, like endorphins, which positively impact mental health. Exercise also boosts serotonin levels that promote an overall feeling of well-being and provides an effective distraction from negative thoughts.

This makes it a great option for someone who is struggling with depression and may not want to take antidepressant medication or who could benefit from an additional type of treatment.

In addition, getting regular physical activity can help improve sleep patterns. Since sleep is key to maintaining mental health, making sure you get enough sleep is essential. Exercising during the day will make falling asleep easier at night and help you stay asleep for longer periods.

Exercise As A Treatment For Depression

A wealth of scientific data supports the theory that regular exercise has the potential to decrease both the frequency and intensity of depression symptoms. It has even been compared with therapeutic medications in terms of its ability to improve mood.

For example, a recent meta-analysis by Singh, et al, that was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at 97 studies involving more than 112,000 participants. The results showed that exercise effectively reduced symptoms in those reporting mild to moderate anxiety, depression, and psychological distress.

This effect is not only limited to adults. Teens who get regular physical activity also seem to be more resilient against depression than their less active peers.

You don’t have to be a gym rat to help your depression symptoms either. Researchers say that just 30 minutes of aerobic activity three to five days a week can be effective in decreasing depression and can often reduce symptoms significantly. Even just one moderate-intensity workout can help your state of mind and reduce your anxiety and stress levels.

Studies have also found that increasing one’s overall daily physical activity can predict future recovery from depression. Regular physical activity is key, though – not only when fighting depression, but also in preventing it in the first place.

Types Of Exercises To Help Combat Depression

There are a variety of exercises that can be beneficial in helping fight depression.

  • Aerobic exercises, such as running and swimming, can help release energy built up from stress and ease tension in your body. Simply taking walks produces a similar effect.
  • Yoga and Pilates are great for calming the mind through breathing techniques and mindfulness practices.
  • Strength-based exercises like weightlifting or HIIT workouts not only improve body image, but also give you a sense of accomplishment when you track your progress.

The key to finding an exercise routine that works for you is to find something you enjoy doing, but that doesn’t become boring. Being flexible with workouts keeps things interesting, so try something new or switch up your routine every now and then.

Tips For Incorporating Exercise Into Your Daily Routine

Adding exercise into your daily routine can be easier than you might think. Making a few small changes to your day-to-day activities is a great way to get the extra physical activity your body needs.

For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, or park further away from your destination so you have to walk a little more.

Or, you can set aside 30 minutes each day for an intentional walking or running session. This can be done by yourself, with a friend, or with your pet.

If you sit for long periods of time during your day, try setting aside 10 minutes every hour to get up and stretch or do some light exercise, such as jumping jacks or squats.

If you have the chance to take lunch breaks at work or school, go for a walk outside instead of sitting and eating indoors. This gives you a chance to see something new in your environment and refreshes your mind as well.

Overall, it’s important to not become overly focused on one type of exercise routine or activity. Incorporating some variety into your routine can help keep you motivated and limit the chances of burnout.

Final Thoughts

Exercising can benefit depression in multiple ways. Research suggests that those who regularly exercise experience fewer symptoms of depression than those who don’t or who are sedentary. Working out also has a variety of other benefits for mental health, including increasing endorphins, reducing stress, and improving overall psychological wellbeing.

Adding exercise into your routine can be as simple as going for a walk outside every day, and doing so can go a long way toward reducing feelings of depression, preventing recurrence, and increasing your quality of life.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of depression, we can help. Contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Dr. Andrew Rosen PHD, ABPP, FAACP is a Board-Certified Psychologist and the Founder and Director of The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, as well as, the Founder of The Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services.


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