Several studies have found that exercise and activity can greatly help
alleviate the symptoms of depression and help improve the quality of individuals who suffer from depression. Though the exact reasons
why exercise has a positive impact on depression aren't clear, the findings are promising.
survey by the National Ambulatory Care states that approximately 7
million primary care visits are made annually for depression. Depressed
individuals are also more apt to develop cardiovascular problems.
How Exercise May Help
Exercise may be an effective way to manage depression for several reasons:
of all, exercise that involves the use of large muscle groups may help
relieve the feelings of "pent-up" anxiety. Moving,
stretching the muscles, the freedom of full-range of motion, and
increasing circulation, etc., may help individuals release tension and
exercise improves one's physique, weight and overall appearance. This
can certainly help improve one's mood through enhanced self-esteem and
confidence. Several of my clients have reported feeling less pressure
due to their ability to eat more freely since they exercise.
in control brings us to a third point. Individuals who exercise often
times feel better because they feel they are in control of themselves,
their body and thus, their lives. A sense of mastery comes with the
improved self-esteem exercise provides.
exercise has been shown to produce beta-endorphins, the body's own
morphine-like painkillers and source of euphoria. This "feel
good" sensation is often referred to as "runner's
Exercise: How Much and How
Cardiovascular exercise can be defined as defined as exercise that
elevates the heart rate and sustains it for at least 20 minutes. If one
can go 30 or 40 minutes, that would be even better, but start slowly. Running, biking, swimming, stair climbing and even walking at a brisk pace
are all ideal examples of cardiovascular activities.
Aim for such activity at least three times per week, or every other day.
Cardiovascular exercise may not only improve your mood, but your weight,
energy level, blood chemistry and blood pressure as well.
When designing an exercise program for yourself or individuals with
depression, a few additional factors need to be considered:
Keep goals realistic. Set small, realistic and measurable goals. Be sure
to take baseline measurements of fitness prior to starting the program so
you can chart progress. Weight, body fat percentage, BMI, resting pulse
rate, flexibility, circumferential measurements, etc., are all simple, yet
good indicators of fitness. Record the results in a journal for later
Emphasize the pleasurable benefits of exercise. Many people struggle in
the beginning, at least until positive changes begin to occur i.e.,
decreased weight, increased energy, etc. The first four to six weeks of a
program can be the most critical. Reward positive behavior and
consistent exercise. Contrary to what so many infomercials claim, the
benefits don't happen overnight, but I can honestly say, they will happen.
Applaud adherence. More is not better. Keep exercise intensity down and
exercise more frequently. If each workout is a grueling ordeal that
produces great pain the morning after, how long will you continue to do
it? Replace the old adage "no pain, no gain" with "train,
Depression is one of the most treatable mental disorders. Due to feelings
of fatigue and hopelessness, physical activity can be challenging, but an
honest attempt should be made. Exercise has been shown to be a useful tool
for easing the symptoms of depression. A recent study from Duke University
even found that while the anti-depressant drug Prozac eased symptoms
quicker, 16 weeks down the road, individuals who exercised three times per
week experienced symptom relief similar to those individuals who took
Prozac. Even in extreme cases, exercise, combined with therapy and
medication, can allow one to enjoy a better quality of life.
Sean Kenny is
a certified fitness trainer and internationally published
author/lecturer on health and fitness. He is available for guest
speaking. Further reproduction by written permission only.
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