by Crystal Bradshaw, LAPC
Depression is caused by an imbalance of the chemicals in our brain called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters contribute to our feelings of well-being, and when there is a decrease of these neurotransmitters we can be left with feelings of overwhelming hopelessness. Dopamine gives us a sense of pleasure, and with depression Dopamine levels are low; this explains why some individuals are unable to experience pleasure from previously pleasurable activities.
Ways Exercise Helps Alleviate Depression:
Studies continuously find that exercising for 30 to 40 minutes three times a week can combat depression by having an immediate effect on mood. The feelings of well-being that occur during and after a workout are caused by the release of our body’s natural painkillers, endorphins. Exercise also increases energy, improves sleep patterns, boost confidence and self-esteem as well as decreases stress and anxiety, all which contribute to mental health. It also creates a routine that exposes you to social situations which can elevate your mood. Exercise may also help keep depression from coming back once you are feeling good.
Keys to Success:
- Don’t exercise alone. Having a partner will help keep you motivated.
- View exercise as pleasurable vs. punitive.
- Set small, realistic goals.
- Set goals to your needs and abilities.
- Establish a routine and stick with it.
- View exercise as nourishment for your body.
- Exercise to music that keeps you motivated.
- Read or watch TV when using cardio machines.
If you are unable to afford a gym membership, take classes, or buy gym equipment, then consider doing an activity that does not require money, such as walk- ing with a friend or playing basketball with your kids. Broaden how you think of exercise and find ways to fit activity into your routine. Add small amounts of physical activity throughout your day like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, park a little farther way to fit in a short walk, or bike to work.
Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Your doctor will consider any medications you take and health conditions you have. If you exercise regularly but depression symptoms still persist, see your doctor or other mental health provider. Exercise is a great way to ease symptoms of depression, but it is not a substitute for psychotherapy, medications or other treatment.
Think Outside The Box!
When it comes to exercise the key to success is to find what works for you. Do you gravitate towards group activities or prefer alone time? Do you like new things or prefer to stick with the basics?
Here are some activities to consider:
- Hot Yoga
- Martial Arts
- Rock Climbing
- Join a team: softball, tennis
- Fencing Lessons
- Zumba class