Depression is a far-reaching mental illness that covers the entire globe. It is not limited to one specific area, region, race, religion, gender or age group, it has the ability to impact lives without warning and often without reason. It is estimated that in the UK alone as many as 3 in 100 people suffer from depression and it is the predominant mental health problem worldwide ahead of anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
It can be a daunting and often challenge prospect overcoming a period of depression. There are, of course, a variety of treatments that can be explored to hopefully find a way back to increasing your mental health and overall feeling of happiness, optimism, motivation and energy. It has to be said though that one of the most effective courses of action when suffering with depression is exercise.
Exercise – The Natural Anti-depressant
Exercising triggers a biological series of events within you that have a huge array of health benefits to our bodies. From lowering blood pressure to increasing strength and agility, from reducing the risk of major illnesses such as heart disease to raising one’s self-esteem. Moreover, whilst you might be focussing on improving any one of these areas in particular, every time you head out the door for exercise, whether you feel like it or not, your brain will thank you for it. That’s because any level of exercise, from sustained low-intensity to high-intensity work out, will allow the release of the feel-good chemicals known as Endorphins. These chemicals work to increase your overall energy levels and attentiveness of the brain – Adrenaline / Norepinephrine; or improve your levels of motivation and happiness – Dopamine; or raise your feelings of optimism and satisfaction – Serotonin. The most intriguing part of this is that serotonin is actually the chemical that modern day anti-depressant drugs are targeted at to improve a person’s mood and general feelings of mental well-being, and here we are increasing levels of our own natural anti-depressant simply by getting up and exercising.
The high-intensity exercise routine will enable you to experience a faster, quicker, harder hit of the “natural anti-depressant” effect. However, for the overwhelming majority of us it is the low-intensity exercise, when sustained over a consistent period of time – or continued – that will have the most benefit. That’s because it is during this kind of activity, walking, jogging, or leisurely swimming, that releases not only those previously mentioned endorphins (albeit at lower levels) but also it will trigger the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors. These enable nerve cells to grow and make new connections. This overall improvement in brain functionality will inevitably make you feel better in yourself and contribute to overall feelings of improved mood and can relieve depression.
Get Up and Get Out
As easy as it is to present the case for exercise being a naturally occurring, and ideal, remedy for depression or any mental health struggles, there is an initial obstacle to even getting started for most people. Depression, in particular, will manifest itself in the physical ability of a person’s life, despite it being wholly psychological. Regardless of whether a person is suffering with severe or low levels of depression it will still have the power to disturb sleep patterns; drastically reduce energy levels; it can affect appetite, and may even increase pain perception and create physical aches and pains. All of which, when you consider it, are far from the ideal starting point to embark on a regular exercise regime and motivation to do so are likely to be minimum at best. It is an incredibly difficult cycle to break from. However, there really is nothing more to it than getting up, getting out and getting moving little by little. A few minutes of exercise, even a brief walk, is the perfect place to start. Those few minutes can easily be extended to 5 or 10, and adding a small amount of time every time will quickly add up. There’s no need to rush it, there’s no need to commit to anything and it is best to literally take it one-step and a time.
How Much Exercise
As previously mentioned in this article, the idea of how much can be a daunting prospect for someone to commit to, or find the motivation to attempt a certain level of regular exercise, when they are struggling with depression. In the first instance, the focus should really just be on getting out there and getting active even if it is for a matter of minutes. There are, of course, certain guidelines from health professionals that detail the recommended amount of time that one should be active throughout the week, which varies depending on whether the activity is high or low intensity. What is still unclear is exactly how long or how intense exercise should be before there is an improvement of depression symptoms. Nevertheless, it is widely considered that a few weeks of low-level activity will trigger the start of that battle. Exercise is not a one off fix but instead should be viewed as a long-term treatment that can be sustained and remains a consistent part of a day-to-day life or routine.