When you are in the middle of depression, exercise may feel like the last thing on your mind you would want to do. But it can help a good bit.
Dr. Trivedi Goes For A Walk
Dr. Trivedi, a professor of psychiatry, was repeatedly told by some of his patients suffering from serious depression, that whenever they had gone for a walk, they felt happier afterwards. Something the antidepressants many of these people already had been on for very long times didn’t achieve.
He wondered if there could be a connection between physical exercise and well-being and recruited 126 non-exercising people with depression for an experiment. Together with some colleagues, he divided them into two groups: The first was put on a light aerobic exercise routine for ten minutes per day, while the second did a similar task, just a tad more difficult and for 30 minutes.
While still taking their medications, they were kept on this regime for four months. At the end, about 1/3 had achieved remission – a result equal to or better than the remission rates achieved using drugs alone.
How Does Exercise Help Against Depression?
The mechanisms are not yet totally clear, but there are strong indications that exercising does the following:
- It releases neurotransmitters and endorphins that enhance mood.
- It reduces the activity of other chemicals, that have been linked to depression.
- The increase of body temperature going together with exercise can help mood as well.
- Exercise can improve sleep, your body’s and mind’s most important regeneration phase.
How Much Exercise For Depression?
As Dr. Trivedi has shown, it actually doesn’t take a lot of physical activity to get these benefits. The group who did the activity for 30 minutes showed a bit more improvement than the group on 10 minutes, but the latter improved as well – and the first group also had the higher drop-out rate. Any amount of exercise at whatever level you are comfortable with is indefinitely better than no exercise at all.
What Exercises Should I Do?
It doesn’t matter what you choose: going for a walk, riding a bike for a bit, gardening, yoga, swimming, starting to take the stairs instead of the elevator, even housework will do. The key is to pick something that at that point you feel you can accomplish and has you use your body.
I Am Too Depressed To Do It!
For many people it is hard to imagine what depression is like: Every activity takes massive amounts of energy. Every limb seems to be made of lead. Doing anything seems pointless anyway.
Remember that when it comes to exercise and depression, you aren’t in an Olympic competition, but in one against the little voice in your head telling you it’s all worthless. Whatever it is you can do and achieve, is one point for you and zero for that voice.
The key is to not compare your achievements to what you feel others are able to or to ridicule your victories. Those others aren’t you and they aren’t in your situation. Believe it or not, but when you have a depression, just going for a walk can take as much or even more willpower than an Olympic gold medalist needs.
Can I Stop My Medications?
You can suffer severe side effects if you suddenly withdraw a medication, so you should talk about any changes to them with your doctor.
More than one study has also shown that when it comes to treating depression and anxiety, a combination of exercise and medications worked best.
Get Help If Needed
Last but not least, let us also mention this: Many people with depression believe that they are alone and that being depressed isn’t really a sickness, not like having the flu or a broken arm. Both, quite frankly, are far from the facts.
In the US alone, 19 million people suffer from depression, and while you also often can’t tell when someone has diabetes, that doesn’t make that any less real an illness, does it?
Therefore, if you exercise, but anxiety or depression symptoms stay with you, don’t hesitate about seeing your doctor or mental health provider about it. You are not alone and this illness is much more common than you may have thought.