Exercise as an elixir for the body’s woes is a concept as old as time itself. Nothing can quite beat a brisk jog to get the blood flowing or a few lengths of the swimming pool to get the muscles loosened. But it’s not just our physical beings that benefit from exercise; our mental health can receive a much-needed boost too.
Exercise is by no means a cure for depression; nor is it a substitute for proper treatment that has been suggested to you by your GP. As a lifestyle change, however, it can certainly go a long way to ensuring that the treatment you are receiving works as well as possible.
With the World Cup and Wimbledon both well underway, this scorcher of a summer is a great time to galvanise your inner athlete and get your kit on. Here are 5 ways exercise can help you better cope with depression.
1) Exercise triggers positive activity in the brain
Exercising promotes all kind of changes in the brain - including neural growth, reduced inflammation and new patterns of activity which promote patterns of calm and wellbeing.
When you exercise your brain also releases endorphins. Endorphins are powerful neurotransmitters that energise your spirits and make you feel happy. And a happy you is certainly an effective way of tackling the ills of depression!
2) Exercise is an easy way to socialise
One of most common behaviours associated with depression is becoming socially withdrawn. Although many people prefer to exercise alone, exercising in a pair or as part of a group can go some way to reverse some of the effects of depression.
Firstly, it gives you the extra motivation to achieve your physical goals, whatever they might be. Secondly, it offers you a great chance to socially connect. A 5-mile jog and a catch up with a friend? Not bad for an afternoon’s work!
Group exercise is recommended by NICE as part of a treatment programme for depression.
3) Exercise is a distraction
For people who don’t regularly exercise, the thought of getting your gear on, leaving the house and pushing through the initial pain can be an intimidating one. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
Well, the good thing about exercise is that it allows you to go at a pace that’s comfortable for you (unless you want to be pushed the extra yard by a personal trainer, of course). Even a few minutes of physical activity a day is better than no exercise at all.
The physical effort put into exercising allows you to focus all your attention on one thing, offering a welcome respite from depressive thoughts, feelings or behaviours. For sufferers of mental health conditions, the much-needed relief that exercise brings cannot be understated.
4) You can exercise on antidepressants
In fact, ‘exercise on prescription’ is often recommended.
If you take medication for your condition, you’ll be pleased to know that combining exercise and antidepressants is a beneficial endeavour.
As you implement positive changes to your lifestyle and feel your body and mind getting fitter and stronger, you’ll also be giving the antidepressants more chance to do their job.
If you are thinking of starting a vigorous exercise regime, check that it’s OK with your GP first. You don’t want to overdo it!
One more thing: even if you start to feel better after exercise, you should always make sure you stick to the dosage of antidepressants that your GP prescribed.
5) Exercise is great for your overall health
The mental and physical benefits of exercising regularly are manifold, even if just in short bursts. Aside from staving off heart disease, strokes, cancer, and diabetes, exercise has also been proven to markedly improve:
Self-esteem. Exercise is a real tonic for the mind, body, and soul, and habitual exercise will improve your sense of self-worth and make you feel stronger. You’ll also start to feel better about your appearance, and the exercise itself will give you a sense of achievement.
Energy levels. By regularly increasing your heart rate, you’ll be giving yourself a bit more fuel in your tank. A good way to boost your energy levels is to start slowly and gradually build up your exercise routine day by day.
Sleep. This one’s a given really, isn’t it? The more you physically exert yourself during the day, the quicker you’ll drift off to the land of nod later on. For sufferers of insomnia, this is especially beneficial.
So with that said, go ahead and lace up those trainers!
Clinically reviewed by Alistair Murray MRPharmS: 1/7/18