13 Sep 2018

Exercise and Depression: Is There a Link?

Fitness and workout advice

It’s R U OK Day. The national day of action to remind us all that any day is the right day to ask - “Are you OK?” – a simple yet powerful question to those struggling with life.

R U OK’s vision is a world where we are all connected and protected from suicide. They aim to inspire people to form a connection and foster a sense of belonging so they, in turn, can help people struggling with life feel connected long before they can even think of suicide.

Exercise and depression

Can exercise cure depression? You bet. Studies suggest that a strong link exists between exercise and depression. Regular exercise for depression may alleviate symptoms of depression and help:

  • increase energy levels

  • improve sleep

  • distract you from worries and contemplation

  • increase your sense of control and self-esteem

  • exercising with other people reduces loneliness and provides social support.

In addition to reducing depression, regular exercises help with medical conditions like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, strokes and certain types of cancers.

Exercise for depression is a more natural and satisfying way to fight off the symptoms of depression in the first place. Because it’s not just the fact that exercise makes us feel better and stay happier, we look better and feel healthier as well. So what is the best exercise regimen for depression? Well, depends on the level of intensity that you would like to set in your exercises. Here are our top five anti-depression exercises that we believe can help.

Best exercises to beat depression

One: Running

When we’re low, we tend to do less rather than more; brood on what’s wrong, rather than try to find what’s right; such is the power of depression to steer us down a dark path rather than a lit one.

Obviously, if we’re in that mode, it’s hard to leap to our feet, don running shoes and hit the road; in fact, we’re unlikely to do so. What we can do though is try hard and make the most of it. That means running and sticking to your fitness routine.

A ‘runner’s high’ isn’t a myth. Running as a treatment for depression works superbly as post-running, the body naturally produces the mood enhancer called endorphins. When we run – or run with purpose – we trigger these endorphins. The result is a heightened sense of well-being, even joy if we’ve really made an effort.

And here’s the thing: if we can just see our way free to run for 20 or 30 minutes even 5 times a week, we will go a long way to keeping depression at bay.

Best of all, we don’t have to run ourselves ragged to do so! The simple act of moving, jogging, and getting somewhere on foot is enough to trigger your endorphins.

Two: Walking

exercise for depression

If you read that first option with trepidation due to an age-related, fitness-related or health-related aversion to running, fear not; walking can be just as effective. It’s still a physical activity, helps you lose weight and we can make it as physical as we like to match our age or fitness level.

If depression has driven us into a sedentary lifestyle, a slow but sure walking regime can drive us right out of it and into a better place mentally.

Three: Weight training

Weight training

It looks like hard work and that’s the whole point. Training with weights with a goal to tone or build muscle takes focus and commitment, two things depression doesn’t like. The more focussed and committed we become to a regular routine of training, the less headspace we can devote to dark thoughts.

Even better, as we start to see our bodies develop and form in an appealing way, we stoke the positive mindset built through the training process itself and strive for more.

Consult a certified Personal Trainer or an exercise physiologist who can develop a fitness routine specifically for your requirements.

Four: Yoga

Yoga for depression

Is Yoga good for depression? Of course! No huge surprises here, the calming and well-being-enhancing qualities of Yoga are common knowledge. But can Yoga help us if we have depression? Most definitely!

Yoga for depression is known to be immensely helpful. Yoga isn’t just about contorting ourselves to improve flexibility. It’s about mindfulness and clarity. It’s about breathing exercises to create calm and reduce anxiety. It’s about finding inner peace. In fact, certain Yoga poses for stress and depression are designed particularly to help you fight anxiety. The meditative qualities of Yoga are ideal for combating depression.

Pilates vs Yoga, which one's for you? Find out in our previous blog!

Five: Tai Chi

Like Yoga, Tai Chi for depression makes our list for pretty much the same reason. Those experiencing depression should try both Yoga and Tai Chi and see which fits your exercise ideals the best.

How much exercise for depression?

minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most, preferably all days of the week is recommended by in Australia's Physical Activity Guidelines.

A ‘moderate intensity’ exercise could mean something as simple as a brisk walk where a slight increase in heart rate and breathing is noticeable.

How does exercise help depression?

Easy. During exercise, certain chemicals are released in the brain that work like antidepressants. Dr. Joseph Firth from the University of Western Sydney, explains how stressful things happen in our lives that might cause depression. The chemical release from physical activities actually provide a buffer and makes you more resilient to developing depression.

Can exercise cure depression?

Well, no, unfortunately, we can’t expect exercise to go quite that far. Depression is one of those conditions that needs to be managed and it can be managed very effectively with, among other things, a healthy exercise regime.

Depression is also something you should never suffer alone. The more eyes and ears we get around us, the more support we feel we have. It’s all the more we can do to lift the dark clouds and take the first steps towards a brighter, more confident life.

Be it those steps walking or running, you’ll be glad you took them. If things get too much, go for a swim, a light jog or walk with the kids – but importantly care enough to make meaningful connections and ask, R U OK? and not just for this day.

Interested in becoming a Group Exercise Instructor and teaching Yoga or becoming a qualified Personal Trainer? Our nationally accredited fitness courses would be perfect for you! Enquire now or call us at 1300 616 180 to speak to one of our Careers Advisors for more information.

Get in touch with AIPT today.

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