Exercise is good for a lot of things, including your mental health.
You’re sad, irritable and feel hopeless. It’s hard getting out of bed in the morning and you no longer find interest in the things that once brought you joy. There’s no denying it — you’re depressed.
While you may feel alone with your depression, you’re not. Depression is a prevalent mental disorder that affects millions of people just like you each year.
The cause is often unknown but is likely a combination of biological, genetic, psychological and environmental factors. The good news is that depression is highly treatable. For someone battling mild to moderate depression, regular exercise has been shown to be an effective addition to your treatment plan. It’s not a cure, but it’s worth a try if it brings relief.
Doctors agree that active people seem to have lower rates of depression. Read on to learn why.
Endorphins to the rescue. Depressed people may be running low on endorphins. Thankfully, exercise increases your body’s production of these chemicals.
Made in your brain, spinal cord and other body parts, endorphins may be your new best friend. These chemicals work in a similar way to the powerful pain medication morphine by blocking feelings of pain, but unlike many pain medications they don’t cause dependence or addiction.
The release of endorphins is known in the fitness world as a ‘runner’s high’.
Run or exercise long enough and it’s likely that you’ll catch your second wind. When this happens, you feel energized and gain a more positive outlook on life.
Stress relief. When you’re feeling depressed about the mounting stresses in your life, exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing. But it may also be a lifesaver.
Exercise not only distracts you from your worries, but it’s also a proven stress buster. When the powerful endorphins your body makes kick in, the tension begins to fade and your mood improves.
Don’t sit there having a pity party hoping the depression will go away on its own. Spend just a few minutes of your time exercising instead of worrying and you’ll enjoy a positive effect on your stress and anxiety levels.
Improved sleep. Depression can lead to sleep problems (insomnia, restless sleep, frequent waking) and sleep problems can contribute to depression.
If you struggle to get shut-eye, you should understand that exercise is known to improve sleep while easing depression. While you will likely feel energized after working out, your muscles will be ready to rest come bedtime.
A challenging workout also increases your body temperature, which offers a calming effect (if not done too close to bedtime). Exercise may even have a positive impact on your circadian rhythm, your internal body clock that tells you when to go to sleep and when to wake up.
Boosting self-esteem. Feeling depressed about your weight and its associated health problems? Exercise is a known confidence booster.
Burning extra calories will help you lose weight so you feel better about your appearance and setting and meeting fitness goals improves your self-esteem. So wear your yoga pants and athletic shoes with your head held high because you’re swapping out your fat for muscle!
Gets you out of the house. While you can work out in your living room, exercising outdoors or with friends is a great way to ease the loneliness that often accompanies depression.
Smile at or greet those you pass on your walk, meet a friend to go jogging or make a friend at the gym. Social interactions are a known way improve your mood and outlook on life.
Beyond the gym. When exercise fails to relieve your depression, make an appointment to see your doctor. Don’t wait for things to improve on their own. There’s help available.
Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.