Exercise is one of the most underrated methods of dealing with depression. Instead, people continue to expose themselves to the dangers of prescription drugs. While these pills are crucial in treatment plans, it’s better to try a natural way first.
Depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide. It can be mild, moderate, recurrent, manic, or severe. It manifests itself in form of overwhelming sadness, negative thoughts, hopelessness, and despair.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) says exercise improves mood and reduces depressive symptoms. It can be a patient’s first option for treating mild depression. Alternatively, it could be part of a treatment plan for major depressive disorder.
Unfortunately, there is a pill-popping culture pervading every city. Even doctors are getting in trouble for overprescribing pills. Could it be time to give exercise a chance?
Keep reading to find out.
Causes and Symptoms of Depression
Many people wonder whether chemical imbalances are responsible for depression. No one knows the exact cause yet. However, women are at risk due to hormonal shifts, such as in pregnancy or menstruation.
Currently, several factors increase the likelihood of depression. They include abuse, medications, genetics, substance abuse, and loss of a loved one.
Examples of depression-causing drugs include barbiturates, opioids, benzodiazepines, and anti-seizure and anti-smoking drugs.
Once the illness takes root, it can eat away at a person’s state of mind. It is complex and may last several weeks. Other people experience it in form of recurrent episodes.
Some of the symptoms of depression include:
- Fatigue, lethargy, and weakness
- Insomnia at night followed by excessive sleeping during the day
- Lack of interest in activities
- Deteriorating personal hygiene and cleanliness
- Isolation and feelings of loneliness
- Negative thoughts on life
- Suicidal ideations, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
As such, doctors use medications and therapies to treat depression. The therapies include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Behavior Therapy, and Psychotherapy. Though these methods are effective, prescription pill use can be dangerous.
Dangers of Prescription Pill Use
Anyone who reads the side effects of medications probably wonders why they take the pills at all. Some of the side effects sound worse than the illness itself.
Common ones are nausea, vomiting, stomachaches, diarrhea, and headaches. There is also drowsiness, insomnia, dry mouth, and allergies. Unfortunately, depression drugs take these side effects to a whole new level.
Pills for depression include antidepressants, antipsychotics, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), and anxiolytics. Examples of each of these include Zyban, Abilify, Zoloft, and Buspirone respectively. They work by balancing neurotransmitters responsible for regulating emotions and mood.
Short-term and long-term side effects include hallucinations, constipation, blurred vision, and weight gain. Others are tremors, anxiety, violent behavior, and suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Moreover, some medication could cause low blood pressure, seizures, and heart palpitations. These symptoms could lead to a heart attack. Last, it could be toxic to your body if you overdose on some types of antidepressants. This increases the risk of death.
With such inherent dangers, perhaps it would be best to try a natural solution instead. Read on to discover the role of exercise in fighting depression.
How Does Exercise Affect the Body?
Lifestyle changes are an important part of dealing with depression. A very important lifestyle change is taking up exercise.
It is possible to exercise your way out of depression. A past study concluded exercise was as effective as medication in treating major depressive disorder. The only difference was medications had a faster initial therapeutic response.
So, what happens to your body when you exercise? First, your heart rate rises. You inhale more oxygen into your lungs, which gets to the heart. From there, it goes into your muscles causing them to change.
This change increases slow twitch muscles, which are for endurance. It reduces fast twitch muscles, which are for short, high-intensity activities. The tearing and repairing of muscles as they change is the reason people feel pain later.
Unless it is severe pain, don’t worry about it. There’ll be plenty of benefits awaiting you at the end. Here are some of them:
- Getting Better Blood Flow
Your heart will grow bigger and stronger, while blood vessels become more elastic. This makes the heart pump blood better throughout your body. It leads to a lower resting heart rate and lower blood pressure. Thus, it prevents heart attack and stroke.
- Improved Brain Function
The smooth blood flow will take more oxygenated blood to the brain. Exercise stimulates the release of male sex hormones that boost brain cell growth. It is a process known as neurogenesis.Neurogenesis improves cognitive function. This leads to better memory retention, higher concentration levels, and faster response times.
The hippocampus handles mood regulation. With the growth of new cells, you’ll notice an improvement in your mood.
Exercise makes the muscles release a hormone called irisin. In turn, this hormone stimulates the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This enhances the brain’s ability to send signals across nervous tissues.
- Burning Calories
Burning calories helps us reduce weight and avoid the risk of obesity. Research shows obese people have a 20 percent high risk of depression.
Obesity exposes people to ridicule, abuse, social isolation, and self-esteem issues. It also causes sadness, frustration, chronic pain, and serious illnesses such as diabetes. If you recall, these are almost like the symptoms and causes of depression.
- Releasing Helpful Hormones
Have you heard of an “endorphin rush”? What about a “runner’s high”?
These terms come from the euphoric feeling people get when they exercise.Endorphins are chemicals produced by the pituitary gland and the central nervous system. They are the body’s version of morphine. As such, their role is to inhibit the perception of pain. They also boost our feelings of pleasure. This creates a sense of wellbeing.
The next hormone is cortisol, which comes from the adrenal glands. It helps with regulating blood sugar, controlling blood pressure, and reducing inflammation.
Last, we have adrenaline. It also comes from the adrenal glands as well. It increases blood circulation and reduces feelings of pain.
- Producing Dopamine, Serotonin, and Galanin
Exercise stimulates the production of dopamine, serotonin, and galanin in the brain. These neurotransmitters play a big role in fighting depression.Dopamine deals with processing pleasure and pain. It causes reward-motivated behavior. Pleasurable activities lead to an increase of dopamine in the brain. This makes you want to do more of the activity. It also affects your mood and improves your memory, focus, and cognition.
Serotonin plays a role in transmitting brain impulses and balancing mood. Several theories suggest there is a link between serotonin and depression. The theories suggest impaired serotonin causes depression. Others say depressed individuals show reduced levels of serotonin in their bodies.
As for galanin, this neurotransmitter regulates norepinephrine in the brain. It leads to a reduction of the body’s stress response. Low stress is good for our immune systems and our hearts. It lowers the risk of depression and increases our life expectancy.
- Enhanced Strength, Bone Mass, and Energy
Working out improves our strength and maintains our bone mass. As your muscles continue growing, you will have more power and stamina. Your body will be more efficient in breaking down fats to provide enough energy.
- Making You Sleep Better
It is VERY frustrating when you can’t sleep well. It’s late, you are tired, but the magic of sleep isn’t there. You are probably also dredging up old unwanted memories.
Unsurprisingly, there is a link between sleep and depression. Insomnia is a symptom of depression, but it can also lead to depression. Research shows those who can’t sleep are three times more likely to develop depression.
Going for an exercise session helps you sleep well. It does this by reducing your stress and tiring you out. It changes the sleep-wake cycle through body temperature fluctuations. It also affects your circadian rhythms. These regulate the time you feel like sleeping or waking.
- Helping with Social and Self-Development
Looking and feeling good boosts your self-esteem and confidence. Having a positive self-image is important for your mental health. It means you won’t have the stresses and anxieties that come from doubting your worth.Another great thing about exercise is the social component. Exercise can put you in many social and fun settings.
Depressed people don’t interact as much with others. They also don’t have fun anymore. Exercise changes this. It creates opportunities to spend time with loved ones and meet new acquaintances.
Some physical activities happen outdoors. This is good news because being out in nature lowers the risk of depression.
Now, let’s look at fun exercises you can do to keep depression at bay.
Fun Exercises to Help You Fight Depression
People make many excuses for not meeting their fitness goals. Even when they manage to start working out, they find a reason to quit later. Excuses range from gym costs, overcrowding, and bad weather, to feeling tired.
It’s okay if you want to admit it. Going to the gym doesn’t sound fun…at all!
The good news is we can fix this. The gym is not the only place to get and stay fit. There are other fun alternatives to fitness:
Do the SWABIJO Combination
Starting us off is this made up word. It represents Swimming, Walking, Biking, and Jogging. Come up with a better acronym if you can 🙂 .
These exercises get you outdoors working out many parts of your body. You can do them with friends, which boosts your social life.
Go for Bowling or Golfing
Bowling and golfing are about as niche as an activity can get. Yet, they are popular for a reason. Both give you a good, fun, and relaxing workout.
With bowling, you will spend the evening bending to pick up the heavy ball. You’ll need to walk around and swing the ball into the alley. Learning the proper technique is good for your brain’s development.
Golfing is a tough sport, even if it doesn’t look like it on TV. It will work your arms, shoulders, spine, and legs. Decide to walk instead of using the golf cart. This will give you an extra workout.
Rediscover Your Inner Child
Kids can play with just about anything in sight. They’ll run around, dig up mud, jump into puddles, and hang from playground monkey bars. You should do this too.
Such games may seem beyond your years at first. With time, you’ll find yourself feeling happy and engaged. Include your dog in the games if you have one. Fly a kite with your children or play a ball game. Or get yourself a trampoline. The possibilities are endless.
At the end of the day, you’ll realize you were working out your whole body. Try doing a handstand for old times’ sake. It’s not as easy as you remember.
Consider playing active video games. Modern consoles offer an Exergaming experience.
This experience gets you physically involved in the game through movement-tracking technology. As such, you get video games such as Just Dance, Zumba Fitness World Party, Xbox Fitness, and EA Sports Active 2.
Try Fun Martial Arts
Martial arts training doesn’t have to be the boring regimented style you’ve seen on TV. You can try fun martial arts styles such as Capoeira. This Brazilian martial art uses fighting techniques mixed with dancing and acrobatics.
Capoeira is a fun way to learn how to dance and protect yourself at the same time. You’ll become more flexible, and have more strength and balance.
Play Racquet Sports
Racquet games are great fun for both kids and adults. You’ll get a considerable workout while competing with your friends and family. The common racquet games are table tennis, tennis, and badminton.
If you want something more intense, try squash. You’ll be sweating and panting in a short time. Visit a baseball practice ground and try the pitching machine. It will give you a nice workout as well.
Laser Tag and Paintball Games
Recreational sports don’t come better than laser tag and paintball shooting games. You can play elimination matches or Capture-the-Flag battles.
The only guarantee is you’ll be running, ducking, rolling, sweating, and crouching. These games get your heart pumping and build your stamina.
It’s possible you’ll make new friends at these types of sports. Get involved and have fun.
Since ‘fun’ can be subjective, let’s add SealFit Training to the list. This fitness and training program works out your mind and body. It teaches people they are stronger than they ever thought they were or could be. It trains them how to overcome the physical and mental demands of life.
Moreover, it shows people how to become better team members. You learn to rely on others. This gives you a support system when you are feeling overwhelmed. The training also empowers you to push your limits every day.
Hiking takes you out into nature where you get to enjoy great views and breathe fresh air. As mentioned earlier, nature is a good remedy for depression. Hiking will work out your legs and hands as you make your way through the trails.
If you want a fun way to get fit, you can’t go wrong with dancing. It works every inch of your body. Go for Zumba, Tango, Samba, Cha Cha, and Mambo. If you don’t want professional dance, let the rhythm guide how you move. Enjoy yourself.
Take Up Instrument Playing
Still on music, did you know playing an instrument burns calories? Thus, pick up your favorite instrument and start playing. It can also serve as one of the mental exercises for depression.
It boosts your brain function, enhances hand-eye coordination, and provides music therapy. This means playing an instrument can help ease stress and improve your mood.
Parkour and Rock Climbing
For risk takers, parkour and rock climbing offer fun fitness opportunities. Parkour is about negotiating obstacles very quickly. People jump or climb over objects as they head to a destination.
On the other hand, rock climbing is about going up or down artificial or natural rock formations. Both of these activities work your arms and legs. They give you strength, endurance, and the ability to plan your next moves.
Exercise Your Way Out of Depression
As you can see, exercise is a viable treatment for depression.
Depressed people don’t feel like doing anything. They also lose the desire to engage with other people. This deprives them of the connection all humans crave. It also leaves them without any social support. Exercising can re-energize them and put them in places where they can meet people. It gives people a sense of purpose.
Overcoming depression is not easy. It takes time to heal your mind and rediscover your value. Never forget, you are important and the world needs you.
Remember, don’t overdo any exercises. It could lead to pain, injuries, reduced immunity, and heart damage. The wear and tear on your body is not good either. Give your body time to heal.
Doing excess exercises due to perceived flaws can be a sign of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). It occurs alongside other anxiety disorders such as depression. Tell your doctor about it.
So, how much exercise do you need? The U.S Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommends 60 minutes a day for kids. Adults should do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. If it is a vigorous workout, cut the time in half.
For long, we have sought medicine to cure all our ailments. Though they work well, they also expose us to new health problems and weaken our body’s immune system. Perhaps, it’s time to give our bodies the chance to do what it is programmed to do.
Consult your doctor on the treatment plan. Then, take up a fitness regimen and exercise your way out of depression.