Depression is a serious condition that has detrimental effects on both a person’s mental and physical health. With some of the symptoms of depression such as fatigue, withdrawing from society and a lack of motivation, it can be understandable that regular exercise may be the last thing on the mind of someone suffering from depression.
However, studies have shown that exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health and can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication, but without the terrible side effects.
You can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise with 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five times a week. If that seems too overwhelming in the beginning then you can just start with 5-10 minute sessions and increase the time each session, taking breaks when needed.
Some of the benefits of exercising when battling depression are:
Exercise Releases Happy Chemicals
Exercise releases endorphins in the brain which are powerful chemicals that lift your mood, energise your spirit and give you an overall feeling of happiness. It also promotes other changes in the brain such as neural growth, inflammation reduction and the creation of new activity patterns in the brain that support feelings of calm and overall wellbeing.
Improves Energy Levels and Fitness
Living with depression usually means low energy levels and lack of motivation which can often result in weight gain and a decline in overall fitness. Increasing your heart rate several times a week with regular exercise will make you feel more energised and give you more get-up-and-go.
Regulates Sleep Patterns
Not being able to sleep or sleeping too much are both commons symptom of depression that can wreak havoc on your mental state. Scheduling in even just short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns. If you prefer to exercise at night, relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.
Promotes Social Interaction
Depression often causes people to withdraw from family and friends and avoid social situations. Getting out and exercising regularly, whether it is at a local gym or a brisk walk around your neighbourhood, gives you the opportunity to meet and socialise with other people. Recruiting an exercise buddy is another great way to promote social interaction while exercising and will help you to stick to your exercise routine.
Improves Self-Esteem and Confidence
Depression, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence generally go hand in hand. Getting fit and strong through exercising can help you to feel better about your appearance and boost your confidence and self-esteem. As you continue to reach your exercise goals, it will give you a great feeling of achievement and pride, all of which add to a feeling of self-worth.
Clears The Mind
Exercise can act as a form of mindfulness and meditation, which have been proven to be of great benefit in overcoming depression. Whether you choose to join a gym class, go bike riding or take up swimming, you are in the moment, focusing on your movement and breath. This allows you to clear your mind of any other thoughts, worries or concerns and help to break the cycle of negative thinking.
When going through mental and emotional challenges it can be very easy to turn to drugs, alcohol and other negative behaviour to relieve the pain. Exercise is a great alternative to help you cope in a healthy way. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress, making you mentally and emotionally stronger.
Even a small amount of exercise on a regular basis can have amazing benefits for someone battling depression. However, it is also important to ensure that any exercise routine is done in partnership with ongoing treatment from a professional therapist, in order to fully recover from depression.