If you suffer from depression, working out may be the last thing on your mind. But don’t be surprised if your doctor prescribes a daily dose of exercise as part of your treatment. Studies show that exercise is an effective but underused treatment for depression because it helps reduce feelings of anxiety, sadness, stress, fatigue, anger, self-doubt and hopelessness.
Experts believe that exercise fights depression by triggering certain changes in the mind and body. Working out increases levels of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters and endorphins, reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, releases muscle tension, improves sleep and raises body temperature, which has a calming effect. In addition, exercise offers psychological and emotional benefits that can help reduce depression’s symptoms, such as:
- Confidence. Simply taking part in exercise can provide a sense of accomplishment and boost your self-esteem.
- Distraction. Exercise helps shift your focus to more pleasant thoughts, instead of dwelling on your problems and unhappiness. Try to enjoy your surroundings while you exercise, whether it’s the fresh air, a beautiful day or your favorite music.
- Social interaction. By getting out to exercise, you’ll no doubt be forced to interact with others, even if it’s a simple hello at the gym or a wave to neighbors as you run by.
- Healthier coping. Instead of resorting to bad habits, like drinking too much, working out frustrations physically (think kick-boxing) is a better coping method.
But for people who suffer from depression, the thought of lifting a few dumbbells may make them feel as if they have to haul the weight of the world. How do you jog around the block when you can barely get out of bed? Try these steps to help you get started.
- See your healthcare provider. Exercise may work best when combined with other treatments, such as medication and counseling. See your doctor for a proper diagnosis and ask how to incorporate exercise into your treatment plan.
- Explore activities you enjoy. Exercise should be fun, not a chore. Do you prefer being indoors or outside? Will taking a class help you stay motivated? What programs best fit your schedule?
- Set reasonable goals. Plan a routine you’ll be able to stick with. Aim to take a 20-minute walk three times a week. As you continue, and exercise becomes part of your lifestyle, work up to 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week and vary your activities.
- Rebound from setbacks. You’re bound to have days when exercising seems like more than you can manage. Give yourself credit for every step you do take. Don’t let temporary setbacks like a few missed days or a tough week force you to quit. Try again tomorrow.