Emotional wellbeing is an extremely important aspect of overall health. An inability to effectively manage our emotions can have an adverse effect on our work, relationships, and life in general. This inability often leads to the development of mental disorders, one of which is depression.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Depression, however, is a treatable condition which can be managed with the right treatment, support and lifestyle choices. One of the lifestyle choices which can aid the management of depression is exercise.
If you’ve ever had to deal with depression, you’ll know that the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling blue is exercise. This is because depression leaves you feeling like you do not have any energy, and if you don’t have energy, there’s no way you can participate in any activity that requires you to be active (NHS).
Nevertheless, studies have shown how effective it is to exercise when you’re depressed. WebMD shows a study which involved 80 people, all of whom had either mild, moderate or major depression, who discovered that three sessions of intense exercise for 12 weeks worked about as well as medication. The study also discovered that after 10 months, those participants who exercised were less likely to relapse than those who took medication.
When sustained over time, low-intensity exercise results in the release of proteins called neurotrophic (growth factors). These growth factors cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections, eventually leading to an improvement in brain function, which helps us feel better. To put it simply, exercise aids nerve cell growth, which improves nerve cell connections, which, in turn, helps to relieve depression (Harvard Health Publishing).
Aside from the long-term benefits, high-intensity exercises release endorphins (a feel-good hormone), which helps to improve your mood. The release of this hormone is very common after intense physical activities like running, or a long jog.
Realising all the benefits of exercise for depression doesn’t make it any easier to get up and get moving, but it’s a first step. The problem with depression is that the things that can help seem be to be the hardest to do. Sometimes, just the thought of exercising will seem exhausting. The key is to constantly remind yourself that it will help you feel better – so strengthen your resolve, draw all your reserves, and move. You can even choose to exercise with friends, or people from a support group, just to keep yourself in check and motivated (Help Guide).
Here are a few steps that can help you consistently exercise to manage depression:
- Choose activities you can do regularly
When deciding on what kind of exercises to do, it’s important to choose activities that you can carry out regularly. It may be jogging, taking a 15 minute or longer walk, running, taking part in a team sport, or even weight lifting. Your routine should appeal to you. If you like being outdoors, you can choose an outdoor activity, and if you like being indoors, choose a routine you can work on indoors. The important thing is to make sure that whatever you choose to do shouldn’t fill you with dread. Remember, it should also be an activity that you can carry out regularly, either daily or during selected days of the week. Find out what works for you and stick to it (NHS).
- Start Slow
The fact that regular exercise has a lot of mental health benefits doesn’t mean you should jump right in and overdo it. You can start with simple activities, and increase your intensity levels over time. Doing this gradually will help build your self-confidence and motivation levels. Over-exercising will only leave you sore, or you could end up pulling a muscle. Either way, you will most likely end up discouraged. When starting out, it’s better to stick to simpler activities like walking, swimming, or cycling (Better Health).
- Pick something you like to do
When deciding on your exercise routine, pick activities you enjoy doing. Depression makes you lose interest in the things you once enjoyed, and doing this can help you remember how happy these activities once made you feel, in turn keeping you motivated. Deciding on a routine because you think it’s what’s best for you will only make you consider exercising another chore, and this will only further deplete your energy levels (WebMD).
- Break activities into smaller stretches
You don’t have to do all your exercise at once, breaking your exercise into smaller stretches can still be as effective as doing it all at once. Instead of running for 45 minutes, you can walk for 20 minutes in the morning and take a 25-minute run later in the day. Even better, you can plan your routine around the times when you have to go out to do a few errands (WebMD).
- Include others, and schedule your routine
Scheduling your routine helps make sure that exercise is included in your regular routine. It also helps prepare you mentally before you start your routine. Sticking to this routine can help make exercise a regular lifestyle choice, but it’s also important to be flexible so your routine doesn’t start to seem boring. Also, including others helps keep you connected with people, and for those who’re depressed, staying connected to people who can support them aids the recovery process. Including others also helps to boost confidence whilst providing an opportunity to socialise (Better Health).