Why you ought to exercise when depressed

I know, I know… it’s probably the 11th time you’re being told to exercise, this month, on some health advice-dispensing website. It’s probably the most popular health tip thrown around to prevent everything; second only to “quit smoking.” Maybe you hate hearing it (I sure did when I was depressed), because hard physical work doesn’t sound appealing in your current slump. Heck, you might not even feel up to the challenge of cleaning your dishes, so how can you muster the courage to go out for a jog?

Well listen up, because I’ve got some convincing arguments.

Trust me… there’s a reason why regular exercise gets such unending praises everywhere.


1. It’s not as hard as you’re picturing it

I want to get this one misconception out of the way early. You do NOT need to run a marathon or perform series of strenuous sprints to benefit from exercise’s mood-enhancing effects. Studies have shown that as little as 30 minutes of walking a day improves mood, and is just as efficient as antidepressants at alleviating depression. Non-strenuous activities like golfing and gardening have also been studied – and proven to be beneficial.


2. Exercise is a depression-crusher

Several serious studies have been completed since the 70s to observe exercise’s effect on mood. And let me assure you that the results are unanimous: exercise improves mood. I’m sure you didn’t see that one coming ;-).

This effect is mainly due to the release of endorphins during physical activity. These chemicals are the body’s natural antidepressant and analgesics. In short, this means that they reduce your perception of pain, not unlike morphine. They are known to produce what is referred to as “runners’ high.

In addition, it’s also been demonstrated that ex-depression sufferers who exercise regularly, display low rates of relapse. Unlike those who rely solely on drugs to alleviate their symptoms.

I can personally attest to the fact that running 3-4 times a week has been a major milestone towards my recovery. It wards off my anxiety about the future and calms me down, especially after a stressful day at work.


3. Exercising improves your self-esteem

First, it does so because exercise requires discipline. And developing the ability to stick to your goals will improve your perception of yourself. Exercise will give some structure, and most of all, some purpose to your day.

Second, reaching your objectives will open your mind to endless possibilities: if you are capable of exercising regularly (when you initially though you couldn’t), what else might you be capable of?

Third, exercise is conducive to weight loss, which is bound to improve your body image. Trust me, when I first realized that my clothes were fitting me better, my self-esteem went up a notch.


4. Exercise will put you in a stimulating environment

When depressed, we tend to spend too much time isolated, in the dark, indoors. As a result, we lack vitamin D. In addition, our eyes need to detect sunlight for our brains to be energized and stimulated.

On top of that, studies have shown that spending time in nature has a stress-relieving effect on our brains.

Getting out for a walk or a jog will take care of all these needs.

Finally, exercise can be done in groups, if that’s your thing. It’s an opportunity to socialize if you’ve been reclusive lately.


5. Exercise helps you sleep

If you’re depressed, you probably know how it feels to suffer from dysfunctional sleep. Exercise will be particularly beneficial to you if you struggle with insomnia. Indeed, physical activity will tire your body out and make dozing off more effortless.


A myriad of other benefits

Depression aside, exercising will bring you tons of other health-related benefits. It’d be silly to miss out on all these:

  • lower blood pressure,
  • improved muscle tone and strength,
  • improved bone strength,
  • strengthened heart,
  • creation of new neurons…



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