5 Keys to Treating
Depression through Exercise By Omar Shamout
From Team Beachbody - Click here for resources, tools and information
to help you to reach your health, fitness and positive lifestyle
About 19 million people in the United States
suffer from some form of depression ranging from mild to severe. It's hard to
imagine that something as seemingly intangible as the feeling of sadness is
governed by science, but it's true. Emotions, like everything else found inside
our bodies, can be broken down into chemical equations. The upside of this is
that you can sometimes take charge of which emotions your brain generates by
altering the things you do every day. Yes, there are a number of pharmaceutical
treatments for depression, but studies show that our bodies produce a natural
defense that can combat this debilitating mental condition.
What are these organic wonder drugs, you
ask? And how do we get them? The answer is endorphins, and you get them through
exercise. These chemicals interact with receptors in our brains that send a
euphoric feeling throughout the body to combat pain in all its forms. Many
people have dubbed this phenomenon "runner's high."
Evolution has gifted us with an anatomy
filled with a vast repository of resources that can fight many of the obstacles
nature will throw at us. The key is understanding how to unlock the door and
utilize all the tools we have available at our disposal. So, with some hard
work and dedication, we might be able to discover the secret to one of our
Because depression is a chronic problem that can't be
cured by an hour in the gym, sufferers must realize that it takes a strong
commitment to an aerobic routine to see any improvement. Even then, endorphins
alone may not be enough to aid in more severe cases. Research studies conducted
by Harvard Medical School found that daily aerobic exercise over a sustained
period of time can have exactly the same impact on lowering rates of depression
as antidepressant drugs can have. The length of the daily workout is crucial
though, as workouts of less than 15 minutes produced negligible results
compared to those of 30 minutes or more. Workouts don't have to be high impact,
either. Low-impact routines involving walking and light stretching are equally
Prescription drugs may work faster, but the benefits of
aerobic exercise on our brain have been shown to last longer, while also
improving other physical conditions such as heart health and blood pressure.
You must make a long-term commitment, though, because we are talking about a
lifestyle change, not a quick fix. A serious problem demands a serious
Drugs are addictive; exercise is
not. You might be tempted to take an easier route for
self-medication. Drugs such as morphine and cocaine also trigger the release of
endorphins in your system, but their addictive qualities are dangerous and
deadly, not to mention illegal. Overeating can also trigger the release of
endorphins, but all of these activities will only make you feel more depressed
in the long term once the guilt sets in, and the cycle will only become harder
to break. Recognizing any destructive personal triggers of your depression
symptoms is vital to understanding how your psyche got to where it is now.
Exercise is one of the few coping mechanisms that is not addictive, so embrace
it as a welcome and positive addition to your life.
Exercise can be social.
Willpower, you say? But, I'm depressed! I have no
willpower! Here's where other people can come in. Exercise doesn't have to be a
solitary activity, and the Mayo Clinic recommends social activities as a way to
cope with symptoms of depression. Maybe try joining a group dance or yoga
class, joining a pickup basketball game, or softball league. Tennis, anyone?
For some people, this is the way to stop thinking of exercise as a chore. The
more we turn our workout into a fun activity with friends, the easier it is to
think of it not as "work" at all, but rather an "out"ing. Get it?
Little things add up.
Just because you need to get in 30 minutes of cardio
a day to improve your mood, doesn't mean you have to do it all at once. Simple
things like walking or biking to work, taking the stairs, parking farther away,
and the like really do add up, and count as exercise even if you don't have
your cross-trainers on.
Be honest with yourself.
Understanding your limits and setting realistic
expectations are crucial to establishing a routine that you can sustain over a
long period of time and enjoy simultaneously. If you're not used to exercise,
don't expect to run for an hour nonstop, because you won't, and will end up
getting frustrated with yourself, which is exactly what you don't need! Ease
into your routine by setting manageable and attainable goals, and build up your
confidence. Overdoing your exercise routine will not make you twice as happy,
so there's no need to harm your body while taking care of your
The bottom line is that exercise should be
considered one part of a strategy to overcome depression and get yourself back
on track, and shouldn't be considered a one-way ticket to Happytown. Changing
your lifestyle is difficult, but a regular aerobic routine can give your brain
the added boost it needs to conquer your destructive habits and combat negative