How exercise can benefit depression and anxiety

By Brianna Lawry

A lot of research has been done in the area of using exercise as a treatment for depression and anxiety. Although there are different levels of each of these disorders, exercise can greatly help relieve some of the feelings of anxiety and depression.

Some of the major benefits of exercise that are relevant to depression and anxiety are reduced stress, boosted self-esteem, improved sleep and release of endorphins. There are many other benefits of exercise but for the purpose of this article, I will discuss the ones related to helping with depression and anxiety.

For people with mild to moderate depression, a consistent program of exercise or activity can be beneficial as a treatment for mood enhancement. Exercise can also help as an addition with treatment of severe depression.

A study was done in 1999 on people – men and women – with depression. A third of the group was prescribed exercise, another prescribed medication and the third was prescribed both.

At the end of the six week study, all three groups had lowered their level of depression and 60-70% of them were no longer considered to have depression.

This study was done to prove that exercise can be a great option for treating depression either before needing to take medication or for people who chose not to use medication.

Some people with mild to moderate depression may never need to turn to medication as treatment if their regular physical activity serves them well.

Another six month study was done determining the positive effects of exercise can last longer than the effect of drugs or antidepressants for the treatment of symptoms. This study concluded the people who had used exercise as a treatment had a lower chance of relapsing into depression than those who only took medication over a long period of time.

So how does exercise help with symptoms of depression? Exercise releases endorphins in the body which are chemicals that improve mood and reduce the perception of pain. Exercise can also release the neurotransmitter norepinephrine which in the body will directly boost mood.

Exercise reduces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Exercise also improves sleep patterns, reduces feelings of stress and anxiety, gives an instant energy boost, and boosts self-esteem.

The best found amount of exercise to help treat depression and anxiety is 20-30 minutes of moderate activity three to five times a week. Exercise can work quickly to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety so for some people even 10 minutes at a time may make a difference.

However, if more time is given to activity, the benefits may be greater and last longer. As well, the longer someone sticks to regular activity, the better. If some only try it for a week and decide it isn’t helping, they will not see the long term benefits of adding exercise into their daily routine.

Some examples of beneficial moderate exercise are biking, walking, dancing, low impact aerobics, swimming, sports, house or garden work and yoga. In some cases, repetitive exercises like walking or biking can become boring for people, so in order to keep up motivation and to stay interested in activity, it is best to try a variety of activities and do different ones every day.

This will greatly help an individual to stay engaged and want to continue using exercise as a treatment for anxiety and depression. It is easy to add activity into daily life without having to make extra time for it. For example, walking or biking to work, parking further away from malls or stores so you have extra walking time, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

There are many ways to include regular physical activity into daily life.

For people who suffer from anxiety, regular exercise is very beneficial in the ways previously listed but one of the more beneficial treatments for anxiety can be meditation.

Anyone who has felt anxious or nervous in the past knows that taking a few deep breaths and refocusing can really help. For anxiety in particular, using meditation can have great benefits.

Simply counting your breaths in and out can help ease your mind and calm you. There are many ways to practice meditation, through breath, yoga, focusing brain activity on the things that matter the most and letting go of other thought processes. Other types of physical activity are also beneficial for people with anxiety but it varies from person to person, so as with the exercises for depression, try a variety of activities and find which ones work the best.

In conclusion, using exercise or activity as either an addition to treatment for anxiety and depression or as a treatment on its own can be beneficial. Make sure to keep activity regular and try new things to keep interest and motivation strong. The benefits of exercise are not just the ones in this article, there are many more that will be recognized as time goes on and it will be worth it.

Brianna Lawry is a personal trainer at 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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