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Using Exercise for Mild Depression

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 6 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Depression Symptoms Treatment Exercise

It seems that we never stop hearing about the benefits of exercise. Most of the time, however, we hear about exercise in the context of losing weight and looking better. But many studies to date have found that exercise can help people with mild depression.

In fact, exercise can help people with severe depression as well but in this case, it should be used in conjunction with professional treatment. Some people with mild depression find that exercise and a healthy diet are sufficient to avoid pharmaceutical treatment and counselling.

Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health

Exercise can help reduce the symptoms of depression in many different ways. When you exercise, your body releases 'feel good' chemicals known as endorphins. Exercise also relieves stress and anxiety as well as lowering chemicals in the immune system that can exacerbate depression. Other benefits of exercise include:

  • Improved confidence: setting goals and attaining them can help increase confidence and self-esteem. A healthier body that is toned can also make you feel better about yourself.
  • Enhanced coping ability: when you exercise, you are using a healthy coping strategy, which can leave you feeling less likely to turn to harmful ways of coping such as substance abuse.
  • Better socialisation: exercising in a gym or outside eases you back into the world, which is enormously beneficial if you have been staying indoors a great deal. If you exercise with a friend or group of people, you can experience even more social benefits.

Types of Exercise

If you are new to exercising, you might associate exercise with very intense sports or activities such as running. You can, however, reap the benefits of exercise with many other kinds of movement and physical activities.

Ideally, you should do thirty minutes or more of physical activity each day or at least three to five times a week. You can try brisk walking, cycling or any number of activities that get your heart rate up. If you don't have a full half hour, you can also break it up into ten or fifteen minute increments throughout your day.

Getting Started

When you are depressed, exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do. People with depression can feel unmotivated, hopeless and lethargic. But if you can muster up the strength to start out slow, the benefits will hopefully keep you exercising and you can increase the duration and intensity of exercise as your fitness and moods improve.

Be prepared to address challenges such as some soreness when you start out and even an initial lack of motivation. Making changes is rarely easy when it comes to improving one's lifestyle. If you miss a day of exercise, don't be hard on yourself and plan an activity for the next day. instead. Try enlisting the help of a friend for company, which can help you stay motivated to exercise.

Also, aim to look forward to exercise rather than approaching it as a chore. It can help if you choose exercises and activities that you truly enjoy. With so many choices, you will hopefully find something you like.

Feeling Good About Yourself

While exercise is not a 'cure' for depression, it can help reduce the symptoms of depression – possibly reducing the need for medications in those with mild depression. Talk to your doctor about the benefits of exercise for your depression and resolve to start a programme soon. Once you get moving, you can hopefully ease depression symptoms and feel better about yourself and your life.

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