Although depression is complex, and can have a range of contributing factors, regular exercise can be a powerful remedy in combatting the condition. While all kinds of exercise are beneficial, the best kind for easing depression is aerobic. Some of the most common aerobic exercises include walking, running, swimming and cycling but if these don’t appeal to you, think outside the square. You just need an activity that gets your heart rate going.
How Exercise Helps
Once you’ve been exercising for several minutes, neurotransmitters are released, boosting our mental health. These neurotransmitters include:
- Endorphins – these produce what is known as a runner’s high. According to UHN, they “are chemically similar to pain-relieving drugs,” yet they are milder and completely safe. Endorphins also help you feel focussed and calm, while boosting your immune system and balancing your appetite.
- Dopamine – aids memory, cognition, motivation and mood.
- Serotonin – enhances our general sense of wellbeing. It also improves appetite and sleep cycles.
Beyond the release of neurotransmitters, Healthline suggests that by focusing on your body’s movements, you may be distracted from negative thoughts. Secondly, your confidence and sense of control can be boosted as you set, and meet, exercise goals.
It can be very difficult to get moving when you are feeling flat but there are things you can do to help you feel motivated:
- If you aren’t used to exercising regularly, you can ease into it by setting small goals then build your way up.
- Fast or upbeat music can be a good motivator.
- Buddy up with a friend and exercise together. Or join a sports team or class. Socializing while exercising can bring additional mental health benefits.
Perhaps the most significant way to boost your motivation though is to find the type/s of exercise you love best. This might be anything from dancing, hula hooping or rowing through to parkour or surfing. And don’t forget to mix it up if you get bored with your exercise routine.
While, ideally, you need some regular aerobic exercise to gain the full benefits for your mental health, other types of exercise such as weight lifting and yoga are still worthwhile. The latter is specifically linked to positive mental health outcomes. Studies indicate that attending regular yoga classes can significantly reduce symptoms of depression.