Improving wellbeing

Improving wellbeing

April 27, 2017

What is the link between exercise and depression?

Image credit: iStock/Pavel1964

Regular exercise offers a whole host of physical benefits. From better weight management to improved heart health, working out every week can help to keep you healthy, fit and energised. However, exercise also offers a number of benefits for your mental health.

It has been suggested that regular exercise could be good for those suffering from mild to moderate depression. Working out in your leisure time has been found to help improve several things that are linked to depression, which means that while exercise isn’t a cure, it could help people to manage their depression.

This isn’t going to be the case for everyone living with depression, especially as those who are dealing with a deep or severe depression are unlikely to be able to get together enough energy in order to exercise. However, it could be a helpful pursuit for those currently experiencing mild depression.

It is also important to note that exercise will not instantly remove your need for medication or therapy and stopping or taking a break from your exercise regime will not be enough to trigger a relapse. You should also remember that not all exercises will work for you and you may not see as good results as someone else in a similar situation. However, it doesn’t hurt to try.

So exactly why is exercise reported to be beneficial for those living with depression?

It helps you create a routine

One apparent benefit to exercise for depression is the fact that it helps you to create a routine. Whether you run first thing in the morning, go for an evening swim or attend classes on certain days, having a routine is a good thing for many people.

Knowing that you have somewhere to be or that you usually go to the gym at a certain time can help to push you to stick with your regime. This can be beneficial as it could reduce the number of days that you don’t do anything, which can make depression feel worse.

Helps you feel energised

Exercise actually helps to boost your energy levels, which may help fight feelings of lethargy that can be a symptom of depression. A workout will help you feel more energetic, which could encourage you to exercise more or simply help you get through the rest of your day.

Reduces stress

Stress can make depression feel worse and cause anxiety as you try to work through everything. Exercise can help to reduce this and leave you feeling less overwhelmed. This is because it helps to work out your muscles, which triggers your brain to relax, helping you to deal with situations in a much calmer way.

On top of this, working out also releases more norepinephrine, which is a chemical that moderates your body’s response to stress.

Releases endorphins

The runners’ high is an actual thing that people experience due to exercise releasing endorphins, which create feelings of happiness. These may not be enough to ‘cure’ depression, but they can relieve some of your symptoms.

Even just going for a walk can help to boost your endorphins so you don’t necessarily have to put in hours at the gym.

Finding an exercise that works for you and that you can stick with regularly could help you to deal with your depression, even if it isn’t a cure-all.