Mental health disorders have been a rising problem worldwide – more so following the COVID-19 pandemic that locked everyone inside their homes. While there’s no cure-all for depression, the usual treatments to help alleviate mood disorders include therapy and taking medications. However, there is one treatment that may possibly help significantly in helping treat anxiety and depression.
Many studies have demonstrated the positive benefits of exercise for one’s mood, but it remains an underrated treatment choice. But how can exercise assist in the treatment of mood disorders, and how significantly can it contribute to alleviating symptoms? Read on to learn more about the mental benefits of exercise.
Anxiety and Depression
According to the World Health Organization, almost one billion people worldwide are suffering from a mental disorder in 2019 – a majority of them being anxiety and depression.
The WHO report indicates that around 301 million people, including 58 million children and adolescents, suffer from an anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, those suffering from depression are at 280 million.
Do note that these numbers are from before the COVID-19 pandemic, and WHO estimates that the number of those who are suffering from mood disorders has risen. According to the organization’s estimates, there might be an estimated 26%-28% increase in cases.
Traditional treatments for anxiety and depression include therapy and medication. However, new studies have suggested that exercise might be an underrated tool in helping treat mood disorders.
Exercise and Depression
A new research analysis found that exercising for 150 minutes a week managed to help significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress compared to medication. It offers many incredible benefits to one’s mental health.
In detail, here are some significant benefits of exercise for one’s mental well-being
The Mental Benefits of Exercise
1. Triggers Release of Endorphins
Exercise has been proven to be a powerful way to ease anxiety and depressive symptoms. Exercise triggers the body to release natural mood-lifting endorphins, which are natural chemicals that improve mood and can help with sadness and anxiety symptoms.
Your body produces these endorphins during exercise, thus helping you feel happy, less stressed, and anxious. Additionally, studies have shown that exercise can effectively treat mild to moderate depression.
2. Boosts Self-Esteem and Confidence
By enhancing your sense of competence and accomplishment, exercise may help improve your sense of self-worth and confidence. Setting and achieving fitness goals may help give you a sense of pride and achievement that can be extended to other aspects of your life. You may feel better about your physique and feel better about yourself by engaging in regular exercise.
Also, research has shown that exercise can help enhance self-esteem and reduce body dissatisfaction. You could be more likely to participate in social activities and feel more at ease in social settings when you feel good about your body. Lessening social isolation and boosting feelings of social support can positively affect mental health.
3. Improves cognitive function
Exercise has been shown to improve brain functions such as memory, focus, and attention. Moreover, regular exercise can lower the risk of dementia and protect against age-related cognitive decline.
Exercise has been found to stimulate blood flow to the brain, supporting the development of new brain cells and enhancing cognitive performance.
4. Reduces Stress
By boosting the production of neurotransmitters that control mood and lowering the levels of stress hormones like cortisol, exercise can help people feel less stressed. Exercise can be a beneficial way to release tension and negative feelings.
Exercise may help you relax and clear your mind, which can help reduce feelings of stress and tension. Additionally, studies have found that the endorphins produced during exercise may also aid in reducing stress.
5. Promotes better sleep
By managing your sleep-wake cycle and suppressing insomnia, physical activity can enhance your sleep quality. Regular exercise has been shown in studies to enhance the quantity and quality of sleep, which in turn can enhance your general mental health and well-being.
Exercise has been demonstrated to assist in regulating the body's circadian rhythm, or internal clock, which controls the sleep-wake cycle.
Exercise can also aid in lowering stress and anxiety levels, which can disrupt sleep. Together with maintaining a regular sleep pattern and avoiding stimulating activities before bed, moderate exercise can aid with sleep hygiene.
5 Simple Exercises You Can Do to Help Depression
When it comes to the link between exercise and depression, the benefits are not limited to intense workouts. You can get your exercise fix in many different ways. Here are some that you can try.
Going for a Run
Going on a run is a common exercise many experts suggest you can do. Apart from triggering the production of endorphins, it also contributes to decreasing muscle tension, improving sleep quality, and reducing anxiety.
And it doesn’t have to be running only: Aerobic exercise is the most strongly supported evidence-wise to help fight depressive symptoms. Studies found that engaging in at least 30 minutes of exercise three to five days a week may help significantly lessen depressive symptoms. Even a 10- to 15-minute spurt of exercise could make a difference.
Research shows that strength training exercises can greatly relieve symptoms of depression. In one study, researchers observed that adults who exercise with weights are less likely to develop depression than those who never exercise with weights.
For people with mild to moderate depression, weight training can be a meditative practice. Your mind will be so focused on the task that you will not have time to think about anything else.
Additionally, strength training carries other fitness benefits, including better muscle definition, better circulation, and the satisfaction of hard work. All of these can improve your outlook and give you a deep sense of satisfaction.
Take Regular Walks
The simple act of walking may help one feel better – and that's because walking is an aerobic exercise almost everyone can do. Doing something is better than nothing in terms of physical activity. If your depression is causing you to become sedentary, start off slowly and gradually increase time and distance.
Setting up high expectations will only cause you to blame yourself and invoke guilt for not meeting expectations. So set realistic expectations - such as going for a five-minute walk. Even the smallest of baby steps help.
Do Simple Outdoor Chores
Sunlight can facilitate increases in serotonin, which is a mood-supporting brain chemical. Simple everyday outdoor activities such as gardening or washing your car can help ease your depressive symptoms.
Depending on your preferences, functioning level, and energy, you can choose an outdoor activity that works for you or just get out and bask in the sunlight.
According to a study published in May 2019 in American Family Physician, yoga combined with usual treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help with symptoms of depression.
Yoga has been shown to have an antidepressant effect because it makes your body more flexible and incorporates mindfulness, which helps break repetitive negative thoughts, builds strength, makes you more aware of your breathing, enhances balance, and has a meditative element to it.
There is no strong evidence for which type of yoga is best for treating depression or how long it has to be done to see benefits, but one study showed a decrease in depression, anxiety, and stress when practicing hatha yoga, a combination of yoga poses and breathing techniques three times a week for four weeks.
Healthy Mind, Healthy Body
Through exercise, you not only support your body’s health and fitness but also reap its mental health benefits. Although it's an underrated treatment option, more and more studies have come out supporting how much of a difference physical activity can make, especially for mild to moderate cases.
If you want to minimize medication and explore other possible treatments for mood disorders, try starting an exercise routine. You don’t have to go all out at once. You can even mix and match the exercises you’re comfortable with to reach 150 minutes a week. Take it slow and slowly start repeating the mental health benefits of exercise.