Exercise can help relieve depression
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
In her TED Talk, "The brain changing benefits of exercise," Dr. Wendy Suzuki, neuroscientist and author of the book, "Healthy Brain, Happy Life" says, "Exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain."
Moving our bodies helps our mood. It’s akin to taking an internal shower. Getting the blood moving flushes out our systems and brings oxygen to our muscles and organs, providing us with detoxifying benefits and endorphins.
This connection between exercise and mood is especially important given that approximately 17% of people in the U.S. will suffer at least one major depressive episode during their lifetime.
And yet, for many, telling someone to exercise may seem like it’s minimizing the seriousness of the symptoms; however, for many with mild to moderate depression, exercise offers one easily accessible and affordable way to ease suffering.
This is not new information. Studies dating back as far as 1981 have shown that exercise plays a role in improving the symptoms of depression. What’s troubling is that even with the popularity of yoga, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), spin classes and so on, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that, "less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day and only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week."
Our electronic age has resulted in far more sedentary behavior than previous generations. Add to that the increased isolation resulting from the dependence on our phones and other devices for social interactions, and it’s no surprise that researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy are reporting a rise in depression.
The good news is that technology is making it easier to access exercise programs without even having to leave home. There are now thousands of fitness apps on the market and trendy wearable fitness devices. Add to that the growing number of online classes and neighborhood fitness facilities, and there is no good reason not to engage in some form of exercise.
Of course, getting started is the most difficult part. Here are some suggestions to make it easier:
Find a friend or acquaintance to be an exercise buddy.
It’s much more difficult to motivate yourself to exercise all alone. When you know that someone else will be showing up at a class or at a hiking trail or running track, it helps you stay accountable.
Pick a form of exercise that you enjoy.
Some people love swimming. Others love being outdoors or part of a class that moves to music. See what inspires and excites you. Otherwise, you will find reasons not to do it.
Choose a time of day that works best.
If you’re a morning person, you may enjoy getting your daily dose of fitness done early and having it set the tone for the rest of your day; or you may prefer to exercise after a day or work to relieve stress and discharge energy.
Lunchtime may give you a much-needed break away from your desk, allowing you to return to the remainder of your workday energized and upbeat.
Work with a teacher or trainer.
If you need some extra motivation and attention, taking classes or working with a personal trainer may boost your confidence and help you overcome resistance to stretching beyond what you think is possible. It’s also good to get some help (including discussing options with your doctor) if you’ve recently recovered from an injury or illness.
Sign up for an exercise challenge.
People often offer 21-day and 30-day challenges on Facebook and other social media channels. This can be a fun way to get yourself motivated while having the support of a group of people. It can help jump-start an exercise program that you will eventually feel motivated to continue on your own.
Set realistic goals.
You may enjoy having a goal such as running a 10-kilometer race or marathon or getting certified as a yoga teacher. While big goals are great motivators, they can also be discouraging if you’re not able to maintain the consistency needed to achieve them.
It’s better to start with smaller goals that you can achieve more quickly such as exercising three times per week or completing an exercise challenge.
No matter what you choose, the important thing is to start. If you currently have symptoms of depression, exercise may improve your mood. If you don’t, regular exercise may prevent you from experiencing depression in the future. Dr. Suzuki says it best, "You can think of exercise as a supercharged 401(k) for your brain. And it's free!"
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