Mild and moderate depression tends to reduce the motivation to exercise. When people feel mildly or moderately depressed much of the time, they tend to lack motivation to exercise. Yet being active lightens mood and reduces feelings of depression. Although it can seem too difficult to step into the swimming pool, get on the bike or head to the gym each day, making the effort is likely to pay off significantly.
Researchers conducted a review of studies regarding the effects of exercise on people with chronic depression and published their findings in 2004. The studies indicated that combining exercise with antidepressant medication was more effective at relieving symptoms than only relying on medication.
A 2013 article in Harvard Health Publications reports that for some people, exercise is as effective as prescription medicine for relieving depression.
Why It Works
One main effect of regular exercise is the growth of new nerve cells and nerve connections in the brain. This type of action in the area of the brain that regulates mood has positive effects.
Exercise has positive effects on neurotransmitters too. These chemicals in the brain allow nerve cells to communicate with each other.
Physical activity increases the release of serotonin, a brain chemical that brightens mood. That's important to understand, since the most common antidepressant drugs work by maintaining an adequate amount of serotonin in the brain.
Exercise also stimulates the release of endorphin hormones, which actually are natural opiates that make people feel better physically and emotionally.
In addition, a sense of achievement is enjoyed when you gradually increase the time spent exercising each week and see the positive results on your physique. This enhances self-confidence and self-esteem.
Types of Activity
You can begin with any type of exercise you prefer. The 2004 review of studies found that both aerobic and resistance training were beneficial for reducing symptoms of depression.
Aerobic activities are especially beneficial for the cardiovascular system. Examples include brisk walking, jogging, bike riding, swimming and stair stepping. The weight-bearing aerobic activities, in which feet hit the ground, are also important for maintaining bone density and strength.
Resistance exercises include lifting of barbells, using resistance bands and working out on weight machines. These activities build lean muscle and strength.
Participating in a group exercise program can boost motivation. This provides structure for your schedule and the chance to make new friends. Check around your local area for classes that look appealing and fit into your schedule. Sign up for one and get started on your new goal to become more fit and improve your mental health.