Exercise helps fight depression

Exercise helps fight depression

‘Exercise is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function.’

An engineering student in a top university suffered a debilitating depression. He had to quit college and became a recluse. He refused to even leave his room. His concerned brother gifted him with a gym membership.

He gave the gym a try. He took a liking to sweating out and lifting weights. The gym became his sanctuary. He found himself again, gained both muscles and confidence. His spirits and self-esteem got a much-needed boost. He went back to school and got his engineering degree.

Case No. 2. Despite her mesmerizing good looks, this teenage girl was suffering from anxiety, insecurity, depression and low self-esteem. Her depression led to a suicide attempt.

Her loved one advised her to go to the gym. She did almost every day. Though she still dragged herself to the gym in the first few months, she persisted. Soon, she started feeling better both physically and emotionally.

She was never into sports growing up. She described herself as weak emotionally and physically. Accidentally, she discovered a love for running. This got her out of depression.

Soon, she started lifting weights to be better in her newfound sports. Weight training empowered her. Fitness taught her that she could do anything she focuses on to conquer.

Time and time again, I hear inspiring stories like these where people use fitness and physical activity as an antidote for depression. What do experts say?

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) maintains that exercise is considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, as well as reducing stress. They report that exercise is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function.

“When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Or, if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activities produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress,” they wrote on their website.

Surprisingly, even only five minutes of aerobic exercise can start anti-anxiety effects. Regular aerobic activity, meanwhile can decrease levels of tension, improve mood, and boost self-esteem. Even a mere 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout in alleviating depression. 

Psychologists also say that the physically active have lower rates of anxiety and depression than those who don’t exercise. Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.

The Harvard Medical School published in a journal that exercise may be an effective treatment for depression.  Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, claims that “for some people it works, as well as anti-depressants, although exercise alone isn’t enough for someone with severe depression.”

High-intensity exercise releases the body’s feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Low-intensity exercise sustained over time triggers the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections.

Disturbed sleep, reduced energy, appetite changes, body aches and increased pain perception are some of the physical manifestations of depression.  These can result in less motivation to exercise.

While it is a hard cycle to break, Dr. Miller says getting up and moving just a little bit will help.

“Start with five minutes a day of walking or any activity you enjoy. Soon, five minutes of activity will become 10, and 10 will become 15.”

The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in a study on the benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed reported that exercise could improve treatment outcomes for many patients. “Exercise is a behavioral intervention that has shown great promise in alleviating the symptoms of depression,” wrote Dr. Lynette Craft and Dr. Frank Perna.

They cited that there is a growing body of research on the relationship of exercise and depression pointing out to the efficacy of exercise as an adjunct treatment for the illness.

*   *   *

Post me a note at [email protected] or [email protected]