This week’s Guest Post (I plan on publishing one every Sunday, from now on) deals with an issue that is close to my heart. Suffering from depression, one of the recommendations I get most often, both from doctors, fitness experts and even random people, is to include exercise into my routine. The relation between exercise and mental health and its power to help those with depression and/or other type of mental illness has been something I’ve  been wondering about for a long time, so I decided to ask someone who is experienced in fitness and nutrition to write an article on this topic. Greg blogs over at Fitness and Fueling, a website where you can find useful information and interesting posts on such topics. I encourage you to visit, starting with his About Page, where you can get to know Greg and understand why he is the right person to address and discuss the topic of exercise and its relation to depression. I’m sure Greg would be delighted to answer all of your questions, so feel free to ask, comment, share your ideas, or even your story. If this is something you would like to share with your readers or friends, please feel free to re-blog or share on social media.

Depression and Exercise by Fitness and Fueling

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Depression … a topic many are uncomfortable discussing. First, let’s set the record straight, depression isn’t people suffering from sadness; much more is occurring outside of their control, it is a chemical imbalance. Exercise is a very powerful tool used to treat depression.

There has been extensive research to help those battling depression and/or anxiety. The most common treatment for depression is prescription anti-depressants that cause unfavorable side effects. However, it is not the only form of treatment. Decades of research suggests exercise can significantly reduce depression and anxiety. In this article, I will discuss the relationship between depression and exercise, how to start, and tips to help in the journey.

First, I have to mention that I have not suffered from diagnosed depression.  Throughout the last 10 years, exercise has been a tool I used to cope with tough times. From tough break-ups, family, and social pressure, life can be downright hard at times whether suffering with depression or not. From that experience, I know that exercise can be the last thing on someone’s mind. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 300 million people live with depression.  Everyone goes through difficult times at some point in their life. Many people living with depression feel they cannot control certain aspects of life resulting in a feeling of hopelessness. Exercise is absolutely within our realm of control. On the outside it may seem that exercise and depression have no correlation, however, research suggests that significant changes occur within our brain when performing physical activity.

If we could instantly flip a switch to change our thought processes I bet every person with depression would flip it, without much consideration. Unfortunately, science and technology aren’t there yet. However, exercise is the key to unlocking relief. There are many forms of treatment for depression. I believe it may be beneficial to treat depression from the outside in, forcing the body to move in sync with the way you want your mind to think. When we exercise the brain releases a slew of endorphins and chemicals that travel throughout the entire body. These endorphins change how we think and feel pain. Neurotransmitter norepinephrine is a scientific theory that suggests exercise directly impacts our mood. Now, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein in the human brain that promotes nerve growth and in contrast, BDNF is significantly reduced by stress. The reduction of BDNF is directly linked to brain health. Anti-depression medications aim to treat this chemical imbalance inside the hippocampus by elevating BDNF levels to normal. According to research, exercise has been proven to promote neurogenesis, (the growth and development of nerve tissue) and elevate BDNF levels within the hippocampus. The academic and medical communities are beginning to accept this as a valid benefit. Now, you are probably wondering, “what does it mean for me and how is it going to change me?”

Post-exercise, patients with depression report feeling more relaxed, accomplished, energetic, and in more control of themselves and their environment. I mentioned earlier, many things in life are out of our control and this led me to research the philosophy of Stoicism. Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that says we are thinkers who are connected to nature. Stoicism is centered on living in the moment, not being concerned with material items, and living life under what is directly in our control. It is worth researching if you are interested in gaining a warrior mindset. I can’t imagine the difficulty that may accompany starting an exercise program while battling depression. The amount of positive change in the brain is sure to be worth it. Now, beginning an exercise program can be difficult, these suggestions may help make it smooth and successful.

TIPS:

  • Choose any activity that is enjoyable. There is no correlation between which exercise is more beneficial. There is a greater chance of continuing if it’s something fun.
  • Creatine, a sports performance supplement, may help women with depression by improving their mood. Click to read more on creatine.
  • Exercise in the morning has a significant impact on reducing cortisol (the stress hormone) levels throughout the day. Thus, reducing stress throughout the day.
  • Fight the mentality, “what’s the point, I’ll be fat and ugly forever” by recognizing it’s the chemical imbalance talking and NOT you. Quiet your mind by walking.
  • Food, depression medications can increase appetite, become surrounded by healthy options to reduce binge eating. Tips for juicing and benefits in this article.
  • Have an exercise partner. This will encourage accountability and make it more enjoyable from the social perspective.
  • If interested in a gym style routine, find a class. Just show up and move.
  • Just go with it. New is unfamiliar and uncomfortable – be patient.
  • Not all aspects of physical activity feel great. The end result is what is important.
  • Participate in physical activity 3-5 times per week.
  • Simple breathing exercises have a large impact on relaxation and mood.
  • Write down the exercise to be completed the night before. This may help in staying committed. I wrote down my workouts the night before for years and it helped me stay on track. If I wrote it down, I had to make it happen.
  • Yoga and meditation are remarkable activities to reduce stress and anxiety. Click to read more on yoga and stress.

Perhaps some people will feel utterly defeated most days and will sulk in a gym while putting forth a little effort and/or feel judged by others. There are a few approaches to this valid concern. Try performing exercise at home or in a location more discreet. Next, people who judge others are who have the problem – be you in the gym and don’t focus on what others think. (It’s surprising how many people are unaware of their surroundings in a gym today with the constant smartphone and television usage.) It is well documented that fresh air can have a significant impact on depression and mood. Try to get outside for exercise, I highly recommend it.

Exercise, physical activity, meditation, or yoga, will have a positive impact on certain neurological processes and chemicals in the brain for those suffering with depression or anxiety. The type of movement chosen is entirely up to you as research does not favor one in particular. Besides, the side effects of exercise are reduced blood pressure and increased metabolism to list a few. Stay true to yourself, push even harder when it’s difficult and most importantly have fun with it because at the end of the day we only have one life to live and we should strive to make it as fun as possible.

 

Sources:

“Exercise and Depression.” Harvard Health Publications, June 2009, http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-and-depression-report-excerpt. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.

“YouTube.” YouTube, YouTube, 27 Dec. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsVzKCk066g. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.

Godman, Heidi, editor. “Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills.” Harvad Health Blog, 9 Apr. 2014, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.

Kelly ServickOct. 10, 2013 , 1:00 PM, et al. “How Exercise Beefs Up the Brain.” Science | AAAS, 12 Jan. 2016, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2013/10/how-exercise-beefs-brain. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.

Lee, B.-H., & Kim, Y.-K. (2010). The Roles of BDNF in the Pathophysiology of Major Depression and in Antidepressant Treatment. Psychiatry Investigation, 7(4), 231–235. http://doi.org/10.4306/pi.2010.7.4.231

The National Institute of Mental Health. Depression. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.

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