The Science Behind Exercise & Depression

Havard Health reports that one in ten people in the U.S. struggle with Depression. Antidepressant medication is a very common way to treat depression. There are several components that contribute to better overall wellbeing that also can help your mental well-being. Number one is to get plenty of rest. Number two is to eat is a well-balanced way. And number three is to get in regular exercise. All of these factors when done right can help individuals on their health journey but studies show that exercise, in particular, may help with depression.

There have been many studies performed that show the benefits exercise can have on those who struggle with depression & anxiety. Here is one of the studies put out by the Official Journal of the Association of Medicine & Psychiatry.

In this study 30, moderately depressed men and women were randomly assigned to an exercise intervention group, a social support group or a wait-list control group.

Exercise control group- 20 to 40 minutes of walking 3 times a week for 6 weeks

Results- The exercise program alleviated overall symptoms of depression and was more effective than the other 2 groups in reducing somatic symptoms of depression. Results also indicated that the aerobic training program was associated with “a clear reduction in depression compared with the control condition, and improvements in depression were maintained at three and even up to twelve months post-intervention.”  Another study showed that just 30 minutes of treadmill walking for 10 consecutive days was sufficient enough to help alleviate depression symptoms.  

How can exercise help depression?

High-intensity exercise causes the body to release endorphins quickly which may help boost our mood levels. However, low-intensity exercise overtime releases proteins called neurotrophic (growth hormones); these allow nerve cells to grow and make new connections. Researchers have noticed the region that helps regulate mood ie. the hippocampus is smaller. So, one reason why exercise can be an effective way of helping with depression is because when the new connections in the brain form it can help us to feel better. Another added benefit of exercise is it can help us to keep our mind off of the everyday worries which can lead to less stress. Not to mention exercise over time can improve our physical appearance and gives us a sense of accomplishment which can help to improve self-confidence.   

What counts as exercise?

You might think exercise is only going to the gym but there are other forms of exercise that are just as effective. For example, cleaning your house or gardening can be counted as exercise if you are moving consistently for about 30 minutes. Doing things, you enjoy that involve movement is a great way to stay active if you’re not able to make it to the gym. Try to do something to increase physical movement daily. Keep in mind doing things like biking, running and other forms of cardio may have a faster effect in boosting your mood so be sure to include these forms of exercise as you are able at least three times a week.

What if I do not feel like exercising?

Everyone knows how important it is to get regular exercise, but some may not feel the energy or motivation to start a routine. There are several things you can do to help you with your goals. First, you want to make sure you pick something you enjoy doing. That way you’ll look forward to it rather than dread it. Second, you should talk with a mental health professional, so they can help you come up with the best way to realistically reach your goals. Your counselor can also help you to identify any obstacles that may be keeping you from moving toward your goals. Third, even you don’t want to, try to push yourself to do it even if it’s only 15 minutes a day to start.

There are many benefits to exercising regularly. Even though getting started may be tough, the pros of exercising far outweigh the effort you will put into it.