Exercise and Depression
Maybe you struggle with increased in depression in the winter time when it starts to get darker earlier in the day -- this is SO common! The reason lies in the circadia rhythms of the human body--it gets dark and human nature tells us it's time to go to sleep or hibernate. The less active we are the less motivated we feel and this can decrease serotonin levels and increase our feelings of depression.
One of my favorite ways to help instantly boost mood is with exercise. It doesn't have to be super vigorous exercise, either! I do understand that when you are feeling depressed or really anxious, exercise may be the last thing on your mind. The Mayo Clinic states, "The links between anxiety, depression and exercise aren't entirely clear — but working out and other forms of physical activity can definitely ease symptoms of anxiety or depression and make you feel better. Exercise may also help keep anxiety and depression from coming back once you're feeling better."
How does exercise help?
1. Releases those feel-good chemicals in the brain that ease depression
2. Reduce immune system blocking chemicals that can make depression and anxiety worse
3. Increasing your body temperature which can calm the body
4. Improve sleep (which is also linked to decreasing depression)
Emotionally, exercise gives you a sense of accomplishment, helping you set and reach a goal which increases your confidence. It is also a great distraction and is also a much healthier coping skill other than drugs, alcohol or binge eating. In addition exercise can lead to more social interaction as you will find yourself talking to others engaged in the same activity. Social interaction has also been linked to decreasing depression and anxiety.
WebMD reports, "Endorphins act as analgesics, which means they diminish the perception of pain. They also act as sedatives. They are manufactured in your brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of your body and are released in response to brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neuron receptors endorphins bind to are the same ones that bind some pain medicines. However, unlike with morphine, the activation of these receptors by the body's endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence." So, it is no coincidence that people talk about that runner's "high"!
Research has shown that exercise is a wonderful treatment tool for depression and anxiety, especially when paired with psychotherapy. In many cases, these two tools together has been shown to be MORE effective at treating depression and anxiety than medications alone.
So if you are sitting there thinking "I don't exercise. I hate exercise." it's okay! It doesn't have to be a marathon. Start out by parking further away and taking the stairs. Maybe try a yoga class (meditation itself is a whole other article!) or a dance class that you think sounds fun or invite a friend to go for a walk.
You owe it to yourself to feel good and be happy. :)