How Does Exercise Help Depression?

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Depression can make you feel empty, sad, anxious, insecure, hopeless, and worthless. Often, this mood disorder leaves you feeling overwhelmed. You want the distressing feelings to go away, but you may not feel like getting rid of them is possible. You might even take medication to help ease depression. But there may be an all-natural way to help relieve certain symptoms of depression, too. Research shows that regular physical activity boosts your mental health and helps benefit people with a sudden case of the “blues,” as well as people diagnosed with clinical depression. When you’re living with a mood disorder, exercise is probably the last thing you want to do. Nevertheless, evidence-based reviews have proven that working out helps balance your brain’s chemistry, takes your mind off stress, boosts your confidence and self-worth, and builds a pattern of resilience that can help you deal with challenging situations.

The Depressed Brain

Depression often manifests itself physically, but mood disorders begin in the mind. Major depressive disorder (MDD) and other forms of depression can:

  • Shrink specific regions of the brain like the hippocampus, thalamus, amygdala, frontal, and prefrontal cortices. When these parts of the brain don’t work as they should, you might have trouble getting things done and have difficulty controlling your mood and emotions.
  • Inflame the brain, which may result in decreased functioning among neurotransmitters. Low levels of a brain chemical called serotonin can make you feel fatigued, sad, and anxious. A shortage of chemical messengers like dopamine and norepinephrine can sap your motivation and energy, and leave you disinterested in doing activities you may have once enjoyed.
  • Hinder the amount of oxygen the brain receives, which can cause brain cells to die. When your brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen, you might feel confused and restless.

Physical fitness may help restore the imbalances and structural changes depression can cause.

Exercise and The Brain

woman exercising to improve mental healthExercise encourages nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, reduces inflammation in the brain, and increases the amount of oxygen in your body. The brain has an incredible amount of neuroplasticity, which means it can change how it’s wired, how it functions, and the patterns it creates. When you exercise, your brain rewires itself and changes how it operates. Exercise can help relieve some of the stress depression causes the brain by:

  • Increasing your heart rate, which pumps more oxygen into the brain, raising your energy levels.
  • Creating new connections in cortical areas of the brain, which regulate your emotions, personality, and how you think and perceive the outside world.
  • Decreasing the number of stress hormones in your body that feed anxiety and depression.
  • Increasing the number of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, dopamine, and endorphins which can make you feel energized, happy, and motivated.

Benefits of Exercise On Mental Health

Exercise can also help relieve symptoms of depression by improving your mental health.

Exercise Helps Reduce Stress & Anxiety

  • Life can be stressful. Stress, especially in large amounts, can lead to depression, particularly if it is managed in unhealthy ways. Physical fitness is a healthy distraction. No, exercise can’t and won’t make stress go away, but it can give you time to step away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression. As you distract your mind and break up the mental obsession with negative thoughts, your increased activity level decreases the number of stress hormones in your body and releases endorphins, which can boost your mood and energize you. By the time you stop working out, you’ll have fewer stress hormones to deal with and you may have a better perspective on your situation, as well.

Working Out Boosts Your Confidence & Self Worth

  • Exercise can also make you feel better about yourself and your body. When you’re depressed, you might feel worthless and insecure. You might even feel like no one cares about you. Physical fitness can improve your self-confidence. When you feel self-assured, you’re less likely to believe negative thoughts. In addition, exercise encourages the growth of neural connections in your hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for long-term memory and emotional responses. As your brain memorizes your emotional reactions, it rewires itself to associate different emotions with your body in movement, which can help you boost your confidence and sense of self-worth.

Exercise Can Help You Deal with Challenging Emotions

  • Regular physical activity builds resilience and flexibility. When you have an exercise regimen, you get used to moving your body even when you don’t want to. You also learn to stretch your body beyond what feels comfortable at the present moment. This kind of resilience and flexibility is extremely beneficial if you have a mood disorder like depression. Remember, the brain can change the way it operates based on the new patterns you create. When you work out, you teach your brain to keep going when your body is uncomfortable. The hippocampus learns this pattern and memorizes it. Your brain also learns that this kind of resilience has positive rewards, including endorphins. So, when you face challenging situations, your mind remembers this pattern and releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, increasing your drive and motivation.

Best Exercises To Help Relieve Depression

Some of the most common exercises used to relieve depression include:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Swimming
  • Strength training
  • Other aerobic exercises like biking, rowing, spinning, jogging and using an elliptical trainer

How to Get Started Exercising

As beneficial as physical fitness is, adding exercise into your weekly routine may take may some time. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Start small. You don’t have to hit the gym right away. Start walking your pet, taking stairs instead of the elevator, or do some light gardening or cleaning. These are simple ways to begin incorporating exercise into your routine.
  • Work out with a friend. You can meet up with a friend for a walk, take a yoga class together, or even participate in a friendly competition. Whatever you choose, working out with a friend can hold you accountable and keep you motivated.
  • Remain consistent. The World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. You can break that up however you like, but make sure you’re consistent. In most cases, consistency is more important than intensity when you exercise.

Let Us Help You Manage & Treat Your Depression

Depression can be exhausting and frustrating, but exercise can help. Physical fitness may regenerate your brain and may improve your mental health, too. Here at StoneRidge Centers, we combine brain science with compassionate care.

You don’t have to let depression run your life. We can help you manage depression clinically, medically, psychologically, and naturally. Call us today at 928-583-7799 if you or a loved one is dealing with depression.

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Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.

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Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
This low-impact magnetic stimulation activates neurons inside the brain, relieving symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.

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