If you suffer from depression, be it mild, severe, or anywhere in between, the last thing you will feel like doing is moving your body. However, exercise may be able to play a key role in alleviating and managing your symptoms helping boost your mood and provide you with a necessary distraction from negative thoughts.
Combat Depression with Exercise
In this article, we’ll discuss how exercise can combat depression. Armed with this information, you can use it to manage your own mild depression or to help a friend or family member in their fight against mental health issues.
I want to say from the outset that exercise in isolation is unlikely to lead to full recovery from depression. Many complex factors can cause relapses and worse symptoms. The best things you can do alongside exercise include talking to a professional or friends and family and get support from these networks.
How Does Exercise Combat Depression?
Exercise is especially useful for individuals who suffer from mild to moderate depression. Regular bouts can improve your mood and release a load of positive hormones and feel-good chemicals.
- Endorphins are released during exercise. These are positive chemicals that are associated with feelings such as euphoria, happiness, and bliss. These emotional states contradict the feelings associated with depression allowing endorphins to go some way to alleviating its symptoms. Just 30 minutes on the treadmill can get the endorphins flowing providing mood-boosting effects.
- The chemical norepinephrine is also released during exercise. Stress and anxiety are crucial sources of many people’s mild depression, but the release of norepinephrine has been shown to relieve stress by effectively “training” the brain to be more resilient to it.
- Exercise can help clear your mind too, providing a welcome distraction from the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions that sustain depression. Clearing these thoughts, even if only for a short amount of time, can help fight depression and give you a more positive mindset.
- Self-confidence thanks to improved body shape and meeting exercise goals can combat depression and anxiety. Feeling better about your appearance can displace negative thoughts with constructive thinking.
- Exercise may even increase the amount of social interaction you have. Group sessions like spin classes and Zumba can give you a chance to meet and socialize with others. If group sessions aren’t your thing, even just a smile from a neighbor as you go for a run around the community can lift your mood greatly.
- Exercise is a healthy coping method for symptoms of depression. Rather than dwelling on your feelings or using alcohol as a distraction or to detach yourself from reality, you can do something positive that will benefit you instead of leading to worsening symptoms.
How Do I Get Started and Stay Motivated?
Starting your exercise regime can actually be the hardest part of your health program. There are several tips you can follow to help you motivate yourself to kickstart an exercise regime and to stick to it.
Tip 1 – Do something you enjoy
If you think you will get easily bored by a walk in the park or a run on the treadmill, don’t include it in your exercise regime. There are plenty of other forms of exercise that you might find more enjoyable.
If you enjoy social interaction and meeting new people, joining a spin class, for example, would be a good place to start. If you are looking for a more exhilarating workout rather than a cardio slog you should look at including plenty of HIIT exercises in your workout.
If you include exercises that you hate then your fitness will just become a chore, meaning you’re less likely to be motivated and to stick with your regime.
Tip 2 – Set SMART goals
Setting goals that you can’t achieve can be a huge demotivator to you sticking to your fitness goals. For this reason, you want to make sure you set short-term and long-term goals that are S.M.A.R.T.
Specific: Don’t be vague or unclear with your targets. The goals you set should be clearly set out and easy to understand.
Measurable: Being able to track your progress helps you stay motivated and focused. If you can’t measure your goals, how will you know when you’ve hit them?
Achievable: Realistic and attainable goals are important too. You should look to stretch and challenge yourself but within the realms of possibility. If you set unachievable goals it can be quite demotivating.
Relevant: Set goals that matter to you and align with your long-term target. Setting goals that are related to what you want to achieve will keep you on track and help you stay motivated to accomplish them.
Time-Phased: Every goal should have a target date. This gives you a deadline to work towards keeping you focused and driven to achieve it. It will also prevent less important tasks from getting in the way.
Tip 3: Know your barriers
Everyone has stumbling blocks and obstacles that can hinder their progress. Understanding that this is a common problem and knowing what your barriers are is crucial to keeping up your workout regime.
All barriers can be overcome. For example, if you feel self-conscious you can exercise at home. If you don’t have the money to spend on extra fitness gear, there are plenty of low-cost exercise options such as walking or budget gyms.
For every barrier, there is an alternative solution. Just remember that anyone starting their fitness journey has to overcome barriers, you’re not alone on this and it’s not a reason to give up.
Tip 4: There will be setbacks
Preparing for setbacks and understanding there will be issues that affect your workout is important to staying motivated.
There will be times where you skip a day because you don’t feel up to it. That doesn’t mean you should quit altogether, just jump back on your regime the next day. Any setback can be overcome as long as you are aware they might happen and prepare for them.
Tip 5: Use professional support
Whether it’s a doctor, mental health professional, or a personal trainer, adding professional backing to your support network can provide expert guidance and tips on how to achieve your goals.
Discuss an exercise plan, nutrition plan, and physical activity program with them and let their knowledge and expertise guide you in the right direction.
What About Nutrition?
Alongside exercise, a well-balanced diet can support good mental health and fight depression.
Complex carbs and protein-rich foods can help improve your mood and concentration as well as providing the energy and nutrients needed to fuel your workout.
For a balanced diet, eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, and high proteins. Try to lower your intake of foods high in refined sugar, saturated fats, or salt, and drink alcohol in moderation.
A balanced diet doesn’t necessarily mean eating bland foods. There are tons of ways you can make new and tasty recipes that support a healthy diet. Be sure to experiment with various cooking styles and recipes to find your favorites so that you stick to a good diet.
Best Exercises For Depression
I typed this into Google purely out of interest to see what came up. Many sites suggest a run or hike, some even propose Yoga.
The reality is there is no single exercise that helps alleviate depression in everyone. Personally, I hate running and there is no way I’d stick to a workout program that included loads of it. At the same time, I know lots of people who love it and the opportunity it provides, to get fresh air and clear their mind.
The best advice is to experiment with a range of different exercises and see what works best for you. A few starters could be HIIT, taking up a new sport or gym class, running, swimming, or cycling. Take your pick or search for a few more.
The most important thing is to remember that everyone is different and an exercise form that works for one might not work for you so keep trying different things and see what you enjoy and what gives you the most benefits.
Depression and Exercise: How strong is the link?
It’s really important to remember that depression is a vastly complex mental health issue. Whilst exercising will help reduce and even alleviate symptoms it is not a sure-fire method of preventing relapse and supporting full recovery.
For milder forms of depression exercise can be very effective even without professional help, but for moderate to clinical levels of depression, contacting a mental health professional is recommended alongside regular exercise.
Some great websites have tons of information on depression, who to contact, and how to deal with it. If you are suffering check out the following sites for information and initial steps you can take before contacting a health professional:
MIND: This dedicated mental health site provides loads of research and stories on mental health, helps you to support others, and gives the necessary information and support to help you through your mental health issues.
Healthline: This site provides vital information on everything health-related including mental health. All the information is clear and backed by research.
Mayo Clinic: This site can help guide you in the right direction for any mental health issues and provide reliable and useful information.