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Decoding the Link Between Exercise & Depression

Decoding the Link Between Exercise & Depression
Kevin Cleary

Exercise has a whole host of benefits that range from helping us maintain a healthy weight to minimizing the risks of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Even as we age, exercise has a positive impact on our overall health and mobility. One aspect of exercise that may be overlooked often is how it affects our mental health. Many studies have shown that those who exercise regularly can lower their possibility of experiencing depression, as well as, boosting their overall mood.

The Physiology of Depression

We have all heard the term depression, but do we understand what clinical depression truly is? The average person may get this diagnosis confused with the emotion of sadness. While there may be a component of sadness in clinical depression, it is way more complicated of an issue. Often clinical or major depression is diagnosed using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which is derived from the American Psychiatric Association. The list of possible symptoms is:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness
  • Outbursts of anger (even at minor issues)
  • Loss of interest/pleasure in normal activities
  • Anxiety, agitation, and restlessness
  • Frequent thoughts of suicide
  • Sense of worthlessness or guilt

These are just some of the symptoms of clinical or major depression and as you can see, this is a little more complex than mourning the loss of a family pet or friend. Clinical depression can negatively affect just about every aspect of our daily lives and that’s a bad thing!! This is where exercise and its benefits come in.

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How Exercise can Help?

While exercising may seem like the last thing you want to do when you are clinically depressed, the benefits are just too great to blow off. Exercise can significantly improve symptoms of depression and anxiety once you get motivated. This exercise can be anything from walking, weightlifting, and even a friendly basketball game in the driveway. Yes, exercise can help with a whole host of medical conditions ranging from obesity to diabetes and even arthritis. The Mayo Clinic identifies several benefits of exercise for those with depression that include:

  1. Releasing Endorphins: Exercise can release these hormones that create an enhanced sense of well-being.
  2. Distract Your Mind: Instead of fixating on worries and woes, exercise can preoccupy your mind and distract you from what may be weighing heavily on you.
  3. Increase Confidence: One psychological/emotional benefits of regular exercise is the boost in self-confidence when meeting or exceeding exercise goals. Plus, being in better shape can increase self-confidence.
  4. Better Social Interaction: Exercising means interacting with others around us and a friendly smile or handshake can greatly enhance your mood. Turns out humans are relatively social creatures!!
  5. Healthy Coping Mechanism: Regular exercise is a much healthier way to deal with depression as opposed to negative methods such as drugs or alcohol. These negative coping methods can make the case worse and lead to other serious issues down the road.

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There are a number of options available to those who suffer from depression and may want to go the exercise route instead of pharmaceutical drugs. Some are as simple as getting out and walking around the block at home, while some others may require additional aids such as:

  • Resistance Bands: These simple stretchable elastic bands or resistance bands can add positive and negative resistance while doing simple, everyday exercises.
  • Leg/Wrist Weights: By adding additional weight from ankle weights or wrist weights, we can improve the efficacy of simply walking or even raising our hands above our heads.
  • Yoga: This practice helps with flexibility and core strengthening, not to mention mindfulness. A simple yoga mat and yoga DVD turns your home into your own yoga studio.
  • Peddlers/Exercise Bike: The act of peddling can increase our heart rate and help with losing weight. An exercise bike can be placed in front of the TV to help motivate you to exercise regularly and an exercise peddler can be used on the floor with any chair as well as on a table to exercise your arms.

Depression can be a tough nut to crack, but regular exercise has many physical and psychological advantages to dealing with this problem. Looking good and feeling good is closely related and should not be overlooked. Always check with your physician before beginning any exercise program to be sure what you are doing is safe and appropriate for you.


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HPFY Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary has been a Health Products For You contributor for many years and has a degree in marketing. His health and wellness journey has a very personal meaning and has guided him in his content writing for HPFY.

In 2006, ...

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