Over 264 million people worldwide suffer from some form of depression, according to the World Health Organization. Specific events or circumstances can lead to the onset of depression. However, prolonged depressive states are the product of an interplay of biological, psychological, and social factors.
Ways Exercise Can Help When Suffering from Depression
Depression is the world’s leading cause of disability. The common symptoms of depression include reduced energy and motivation, prolonged bouts of sadness, loss of appetite, insomnia, oversleeping, and a general lack of interest in things that once brought pleasure. Untreated depression can be life-threatening, with feelings of emptiness possibly leading to thoughts of self-harm and suicide.
How Depression Affects a Person
Depression is a mood disorder thought to result from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain (Neurotransmitters). Decreased serotonin function leads to weakness, sadness, and anxiety. Imbalances in the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine can lead to loss of energy, motivation, and interest in activities that were once pleasurable.
Exercise as Therapy
Exercise has long been established as an addition to therapy for many physical ailments. Regular exercise improves physical health, physique and reduces the risk of multiple chronic diseases and mortality.
Exercising improves joint health, decreases blood pressure, and enhances cognitive function. Studies show that exercising reduces the risk of developing up to 35 chronic ailments.
Therapeutic exercises are specific movements prescribed by a physiotherapist to correct damages, restore skeletal and muscular function, and achieve a desired state of wellbeing. Not every physical activity will pass as exercise. Therapeutic exercises are planned and carried out with specific goals in mind.
Exercise as Treatment for Depression
Depression can be managed successfully with single or multiple forms of treatment. Most treatment approaches combine lifestyle therapy with medical intervention. Exercise is often prescribed in combination with other treatment strategies as a treatment for depression.
AI-generated data from StuffThatWorks.health, a crowdsourcing platform, rates exercise as the 6th most effective treatment, but only the 12th most tried based on the analysis of more than 26,000 reports.
Exercise triggers a cascade of biological activity that results in many positive outcomes. The intensity and regularity of exercise also affect the results. High-intensity exercises cause the brain to release endorphins – feel-good chemicals responsible for the wellness connected with exercising.
Low-intensity exercises trigger the release of specific proteins that cause the growth of nerve cells and the creation of new neural pathways. This process improves mood and has more long-term value than the results of high-intensity exercises.
Individuals who have overcome depression may still carry a relapse risk. Developing a consistent exercise routine can help prevent a relapse. Exercise can also serve as an effective distraction from the negative thoughts and circumstances that can trigger depressive states.
People that suffer from depression may find it challenging to get into an exercise routine. The key to getting into it is starting small. Five to ten minutes of exercise – walking, jogging, or any enjoyable daily activity may be enough initially. The individual can progress to longer routines as they see progress.
There is no exact prescription for how long or how intensely a person suffering from depression may need to exercise before experiencing significant improvements. However, it is advisable to pick a sustainable routine over time and modify it as the condition improves.
Other Effects of Exercises on Mental Health
Exercise can also help handle other mental health conditions besides depression:
Endorphins are released during exercise, increasing physical and mental alertness and reducing anxiety. Focusing on the specifics of an exercise routine like breathing rate or the rush of the passing wind can help patients take their thoughts away from the situations that cause anxiety.
Stress is the result of tension buildup over time. Stress causes the muscles of the body to become tense, leading to pain, cramps, insomnia, headaches, heartburn, etc. The physical and mental distress from these symptoms of stress can trigger more stress, leading to a vicious cycle.
Endorphins released during exercise relax tense muscles and help the individual break out of the vicious cycle of stress.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Exercise can improve concentration, memory, and mood by increasing the production of neurotransmitters that aid in focusing in a way that is similar to ADHD medication.
Regular exercising can also provide the following:
Low self-esteem has been implicated as a risk factor for depression. A low sense of self-worth can also be a symptom of depression. Regular exercise can give an individual a massive confidence boost. The neural pathways formed from regular exercising rewire the brain to lift confidence and improve a person’s sense of self-worth.
Regular exercises build resilience that helps individuals face the challenges of daily living. An exercise routine allows you to get things done even when you don’t want to. Soon enough, new neural connections are formed.
Exercise is a healthier and safer alternative to narcotics, alcohol, and other damaging behavior that may trigger or feed depression in the long run.
Types of Exercises for Depression
Developing a routine around the following exercises can help symptoms of depression:
- Strength training
- Artistic dancing
Other Ways of Treating Depression
Medication is the mainstay of depression therapy, with antidepressants being the drugs used to manage the condition. There are several classes of prescription antidepressants. Zoloft, Prozac, Anafranil, Paxil, and Marplan are among the most commonly prescribed drugs for depression. In recent years, ketamine therapy has emerged as a good alternative to traditional antidepressants.
Talking to someone has proven to be one of the most helpful ways of managing depression. Psychotherapy sessions help patients learn how to manage thoughts and feelings that trigger depression.
Phototherapy, also known as light therapy, involves exposing the patient to large doses of artificial light. This type of treatment is used to treat patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects the individual at certain times of the year.
Adopting a healthy diet, cutting down on alcohol, caffeine, drugs, and other harmful substances can also help deal with symptoms. Trying to get as much sleep as possible, avoiding depressing environments and individuals, and engaging in pleasurable activities are also lifestyle modifications that can help with mitigating symptoms.
Natural remedies are also used alone or in combination with other treatments for depression. Examples include St. John wort, lavender, chamomile, and ginseng.
Patients should speak with a physician before using natural remedies or supplements as they may interfere with the efficacy of other medication and worsen symptoms.
Depression is a global health concern, and researchers continue to work towards developing more means of treatment. Physically active people typically record lower cases of depression than those who live sedentary lifestyles. Depression is potentially debilitating and can severely reduce a person’s quality of life.
Like other therapeutic approaches, the results of exercising vary among individuals. Some people respond positively to exercises, while others experience little or no improvement. Patients who do not achieve significant exercise outcomes would be better served by focusing on other treatments.
The impact of regular exercises on overall physical and mental health is not in doubt, so everyone should be encouraged to engage in regular physical activity.