We all know exercise is a healthy habit. Getting the recommended 30 minutes a day can strengthen your heart, shrink your waistline, cut health risks and improve your longevity and quality of life.
Exercise also plays a very direct and immediate role in mental health, especially when it comes to relieving symptoms of depression.
Exercising for periods of 20-30 minutes triggers your body to release endorphins and serotonin. These natural chemicals can boost your mood and lessen your response to pain. Additionally, by increasing your body temperature, exercise can have a calming effect.
A 2005 study conducted by University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researches found 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise, five days a week, reduced depression symptoms by nearly half after three months.
In other studies, mice who regularly ran on running wheels showed more brain cell growth than mice who did not run. This growth, which is called neurogenesis, led to better performance on maze tests. In other studies, neurogenesis was found when anti-depressant medication helped improve symptoms of depression. In other words, regular exercise may have the same effect on the brain that anti-depressant medications do!
Changes in the brain, however, are just the beginning of exercise's depression-fighting power.
In addition to your body's immediate response to exercise, there are related factors that can also contribute to improved mental health and stress management:
1) A Good Night's Sleep: Many studies show a strong link between poor sleep quality and depression symptoms; meanwhile regular exercise and healthy sleep patterns have a positive connection. One study found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week provided a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality in a sample of 2,600 participants.
2) A Healthier You: Depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. However, a doctor-approved exercise regimen can relieve symptoms or reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses that are linked to depression.
3) Social Opportunities: From joining a Zumba class to taking a nature walk with a friend, exercise can also serve as a therapeutic social outlet, which in turn boosts mental and emotional well being.
4) A Stronger Self Image: Exercise can increase self esteem on many levels.
"When we make a goal and reach it, like running a 5K, we gain a sense of pride in what we can do, and that can lead to a more positive outlook overall,” said Lori Phelps, PhD, a behavioral health specialist at Monroe Clinic. "When all is said and done, exercise is an effective tool for overall wellness. But the most important part? Finding the exercise that’s right for you. Because the right exercise can actually be… fun. Which makes it easier to do regularly.”
Struggling with symptoms of depression?
Don't hesitate to speak to your primary care provider. Depression can have a profound effect on your health, your relationships and your ability to lead a full, productive life. Your primary care provider can help you get the treatment you need, as well as connect you with important resources or refer you to a Monroe Clinic behavioral health specialist, if needed.