As life becomes more and more hectic and more demands are placed on us, whether it is from our work, our relationships or other commitments we have, more and more people find that they are having a hard time keeping up with everything. This leads them to experience feelings of high stress and eventually burnout. If let to go on long enough the next result will be a period of depression - something that is very hard to break out of.
Luckily, exercise can play a significant role in both preventing depression and beating it if you are already suffering. Below are the top reasons exercise can help.
1. The Release Of Endorphins
One of the main reasons why exercise helps to reduce the chances or symptoms of depression is because it causes the body to release a chemical substance called an endorphin. Endorphins are produced in various brain structures with the highest concentration coming from the arculate nucleus of the hypothalamus. The adrenals are also responsible for much of the production that comes with exercise as well.
Endorphins in general are responsible for a variety of different sensations. They cause a decrease in pain perception, the suppression of affective disorders (depression included), the promotion of learning, improved memory, regulation of the cardiovascular system, thermal regulatory mechanisms as well as an enhanced sexual desire. So as you can see, by causing a release of these substances you are triggering many bodily systems that are targeted towards feeling better.
2. Improvements In Self-Esteem
A second reason why exercise can help an individual overcome a bout of depression is because it will help to improve their overall sense of self-esteem. This is particularly important for individuals who are overweight or are not feeling all that attractive in their own bodies. Upon starting a sensible exercise program they will start to see improvements in the way they look, be it by losing weight or gaining lean muscle mass. This will leave them feeling better about themselves and an improved physique can often be enough in itself to get someone feeling good enough to start getting out of the house more which will also help to promote feelings of wellness.
3. Feelings Of Increased Self-Efficacy
Seeing performance improvements on a workout routine, such as being able to reach a specific goal like running a 10 minute mile or bench pressing 100 pounds, will help to increase the self-efficacy an individual is feeling. Self-efficacy can be defined as a feeling of being capable. Those who are high in self-efficacy have strong beliefs in themselves that they can accomplish any given objective. Those who are low in self-efficacy do not share this belief and it is these people who are often affected with depression.
By helping to raise this self-efficacy, exercise makes for a great treatment option. When the individual sees that they are in fact capable of achieving progress in at least one area in their life, this newfound belief in themselves may start to transfer over to other areas and give them the motivation they need to start rebuilding the rest of their life (ex. going back to work).
4. Reducing Social Isolation
Another way exercise can help those with depression is by reducing the social isolation these people typically experience. Often when the depression is severe enough they will only want to remain home alone and will begin pushing those who were once close to them away. Not only is this unhealthy but it will also further exasperate the situation, bringing them to a further level of depression than they were before. By getting out of the house and exercising, they will break free from this isolation and mood improvements will be seen. Even better is if they join a group fitness class as then they will likely be interacting with individuals and may even find some supportive friends to help see them through their disorder.
5. Improved Health
If the individual, in addition to suffering from depression, is also experiencing other health related issues that contribute to current mental state, exercise may help with those as well. Exercise has been shown to help with a wide variety of health conditions, from diseases to common aches and pains so improving the overall health may take away a few of the contributing factors that are causing the person to feel down on their life.
6. Improved Nutrition
A common occurrence you see with those who begin an exercise program is that their dietary habits also begin to improve. There seems to be a correlation to people taking better care of what they put in their mouth so they do not 'blow all their hard work'. This leads to improved nutritional status of the body, which again can play a role in improving depression. A proper intake of omega-3 fatty acids has been demonstrated to reduce depression so if their diet was very poor before and then it starts improving, along with the inclusion of these essential nutrients, those in themselves, apart from the actual exercise will help their condition. So this whole point works more or less as an indirect benefit of exercise to help prevent or beat depression.
If you decide to implement an exercise program in your life, with the main goal of preventing or beating depression, there are some factors you should take into consideration.
1. Build Up Your Frequency/Intensity
You really want to pay attention to the 'too much too soon' syndrome here. As you are likely not going to have a significant amount of energy in the beginning, as low energy is a common symptom of depression, you do not want to partake in anything too strenuous or else you will just feel overwhelmed and will quit before any benefits are received.
2. Do Something You Enjoy
This should be pretty self-explanatory and a given. When you are using exercise to try and improve your mood, forcing yourself to do something you have no interest in doing just because you heard it was a great form of exercise is not a smart plan. Rather, pick something that will get your body moving but that you will actually look forward to each time you do it. Even more important than improving your physical condition at this point is improving your sense of enjoyment of life so choose an activity that primarily satisfies this goal.
3. Try And Do Some Aerobic Exercise
In addition to doing what you love, it is going to be most beneficial if you can find at least one activity to do that is aerobic in nature (causes your body to increase it's use of oxygen for a continual period of time). Examples could be fast walking, jogging, biking, rowing, using an elliptical trainer at the gym, playing soccer or hockey or any other activity similar in nature).
4. Keep The Duration Short To Start
Similarly, as with intensity it is best to start out for a shorter period of time, say 20 minutes and build up from there. Don't force yourself to go for extended periods of time unless you really want to. The main point of exercise is to get you focusing on something other than your worries and get your body moving. So long as it accomplishes this you are going to see benefits.
5. Go Outside
If you have the option available, try and take your exercise outside. Getting fresh air can also be a big mood enhances for many people as well as the natural sunlight provided will help you meet your vitamin D requirements. Anyone who stays cooped up inside for too long is going to start feeling depressed so if you are already in this condition, you are only going to make matters much worse by never going out.
So if you or someone you know is suffering or at risk for suffering from depression, make sure you do not overlook exercise as a treatment option. It can really provide a wide variety of benefits that help you get your life back on track and get you on the road to good health and happiness again.