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Exercising Away Depression
By Sean M. Kenney
Several studies have found that
exercise and activity can greatly help alleviate the
symptoms of depression and help improve the quality of
individuals who suffer from depression. Though the exact
reasons why exercise has a positive impact on depression
aren't clear, the findings are promising.
A survey by the National Ambulatory Care states that
approximately 7 million primary care visits are made
annually for depression. Depressed individuals are also
more apt to develop cardiovascular problems.
How Exercise May Help
Exercise may be an effective way to manage depression
for several reasons:
First of all, exercise that involves the use of large
muscle groups may help relieve the feelings of "pent-up"
anxiety. Moving, stretching the muscles, the freedom of
full-range of motion, and increasing circulation, etc.,
may help individuals release tension and aggression.
Secondly, exercise improves one's physique, weight and
overall appearance. This can certainly help improve
one's mood through enhanced self-esteem and confidence.
Several of my clients have reported feeling less
pressure due to their ability to eat more freely since
Being in control brings us to a third point. Individuals
who exercise often times feel better because they feel
they are in control of themselves, their body and thus,
their lives. A sense of mastery comes with the improved
self-esteem exercise provides.
Finally, exercise has been shown to produce
beta-endorphins, the body's own morphine-like
painkillers and source of euphoria. This "feel good"
sensation is often referred to as "runner's high".
Exercise: How Much and How Often
Cardiovascular exercise can be defined as defined as
exercise that elevates the heart rate and sustains it
for at least 20 minutes. If one can go 30 or 40 minutes,
that would be even better, but start slowly. Running,
biking, swimming, stair climbing and even walking at a
brisk pace are all ideal examples of cardiovascular
Aim for such activity at least three times per week, or
every other day. Cardiovascular exercise may not only
improve your mood, but your weight, energy level, blood
chemistry and blood pressure as well.
When designing an exercise program for yourself or
individuals with depression, a few additional factors
need to be considered:
Keep goals realistic. Set small, realistic and
measurable goals. Be sure to take baseline measurements
of fitness prior to starting the program so you can
chart progress. Weight, body fat percentage, BMI,
resting pulse rate, flexibility, circumferential
measurements, etc., are all simple, yet good indicators
of fitness. Record the results in a journal for later
Emphasize the pleasurable benefits of exercise. Many
people struggle in the beginning, at least until
positive changes begin to occur i.e., decreased weight,
increased energy, etc. The first four to six weeks of a
program can be the most critical. Reward positive
behavior and consistent exercise. Contrary to what so
many infomercials claim, the benefits don't happen
overnight, but I can honestly say, they will happen.
Applaud adherence. More is not better. Keep exercise
intensity down and exercise more frequently. If each
workout is a grueling ordeal that produces great pain
the morning after, how long will you continue to do it?
Replace the old adage "no pain, no gain" with "train,
Depression is one of the most treatable mental
disorders. Due to feelings of fatigue and hopelessness,
physical activity can be challenging, but an honest
attempt should be made. Exercise has been shown to be a
useful tool for easing the symptoms of depression. A
recent study from Duke University even found that while
the anti-depressant drug Prozac eased symptoms quicker,
16 weeks down the road, individuals who exercised three
times per week experienced symptom relief similar to
those individuals who took Prozac. Even in extreme
cases, exercise, combined with therapy and medication,
can allow one to enjoy a better quality of life.