Exercise to Beat the Blues
Staying Active Lifts Our Spirits
Depression affects about one in 10 adults each year and nearly twice as many women as men, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Although exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do when you are feeling blue, it’s a sure way to climb out of the morass and achieve a brighter outlook, higher energy levels and good heart health.
"In winter months, people get sluggish in many ways, and the resulting buildup of toxins can make them feel achy. They often interpret their fatigue and tension as depression, but that’s not necessarily so,” says Carolyn Dean, a pioneering physician, naturopath, nutritionist and author, with 25 years of experience treating diet and health issues.
“The best, most natural way to pull toxins out of the body is through movement,” she advises. Becoming active is a good way to both lift depression and promote overall health, including a healthy heart, one of the largest and most vital muscles in the body.
Getting off the couch often begins by identifying what you enjoy and will be most likely to continue doing. Setting reasonable goals is important. If you haven’t exercised in awhile or feel guilty for taking time out of an already busy day, try starting with a five-minute workout, and then increase the duration as you get stronger and feel better.
Dean suggests that one good way to start is by walking and using a pedometer, or climbing stairs with a step-counter (10,000 steps a day is a reachable goal). You can make a game of competing against yourself.
Invite friends to walk with you or create your own walking club to help stay on track with a cardio-exercise routine. Walking your dog or borrowing a neighbor’s pooch for a stroll around the neighborhood is fun. Inject additional movement into daily routines via gardening, washing the car or playing with children.
Although the scientific links between exercise and reduced anxiety and depression aren’t entirely known, it is clear that working out can help anyone relax and feel better. The Mayo Clinic reports that exercise helps ease depression by releasing feel good brain chemicals in the body; reducing immune system chemicals; increasing body temperature; boosting self-confidence; taking thoughts off of worries; and promoting social interaction, thus equipping individuals to better cope with life’s ups and downs.
“Exercise is sometimes stigmatized as an activity that’s hot, sticky and not fun,” notes Jess Martin, a wellness coordinator with the nationwide network of Healthstat, Inc. clinics, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“We encourage our participants to instead think of exercise as fun. Running, lifting weights and other fitness activities certainly get your heart pumping, but so can less intense forms of exercise. While we encourage everyone to have 30-minute workouts, you can also benefit from shorter intervals, such as two 15-minute or even three 10-minute sessions a day.”
As Martin notes, people that work out with a buddy are more likely to be accountable to an exercise routine. Strengthening healthy social bonds reduces stresses at the same time. “When you don’t exercise, the muscles of the body and the heart atrophy, he says. The more you exercise, the lower the heart rate tends to become, and the more efficient the heart function.”
“Daily exercise should be as much a part of your routine as meals,” counsels Dr. Gabriela Cora, vice-chair of the Council on Communications for the American Psychiatric Association, author, wellness and well-being coach and former researcher in mood and anxiety disorders at the National Institutes of Health. “This is even truer for busy people, because so many these days are sedentary; everyone needs to find a balance for any lack of energy flow.” She points out that while many tend to think of exercise as a hobby, it is really one of the four pillars of biological health—sleep, relaxation, nutrition and exercise.
Note: Consult with a physician for advice about what exercise and level of intensity is best for you. If you exercise regularly, but anxiety or depression symptoms still interfere with daily life, follow up with a doctor or other qualified mental health provider.
Priscilla Goudreau-Santos is a freelance writer and owner of Priscilla Goudreau Public Relations and Marketing, in Jacksonville, FL. Connect at 904-371-7751.