October was Depression Awareness Month, making now and the holidays a good time to focus on overcoming the blues and keeping depression away. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 16 million adults each year experience the most common type of depression, which is Major Depressive Disorder. The disorder is characterized by having at least five of the symptoms, in which at least one of them is an overwhelming feeling of sadness or a loss of interest and pleasure in most usual activities.
The good news for those who would like to keep depression at bay or who are looking to beat the blues is that they may need look no further than consistently exercising. “Making exercise a consistent part of your life has some amazing benefits,” says Coach Sarah Walls, personal trainer and owner of SAPT Strength & Performance Training, Inc. (also the strength and conditioning coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics). “Those who engage in exercise regularly feel the difference it can make in one’s life. It can impact everything from how you see yourself to how well you sleep at night. It’s that powerful.”
Before anyone cringes and says they don’t have time to fit in exercising, it’s important to know that even a little bit can go a long way. New research published in the October 2017 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry shares details from a landmark study conducted on nearly 34,000 Norwegians. What researchers found was that even small amounts of exercise can protect against depression, regardless of age or gender. They report that sedentary lifestyles are becoming the norm around the world, and depression rates are growing. What’s more, their research showed that those who don’t exercise at all have a 44 percent increased chance of developing depression. They found that the mental health benefits of exercise are found within the first hour of exercise each week, showing that even giving an hour per week to exercise does a world of good.
Here are five ways exercise helps to beat the blues:
- Natural chemicals. When you exercise, your brain releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Those endorphins are a natural opiate-like chemical that acts as a pain reliever, reduces stress, and helps people be able to sleep better.
- Clears the mind. Exercising is a great way to help alleviate worries and anxiety. Those who may be worrying about something or having a difficult emotional time can engage in exercise and find they feel a lot better by the time they are done with the session.
- New connections. According to Harvard Medical School, exercising spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. This helps to lead to improvements in brain functioning. The exercising supports nerve cells in the hippocampus, which helps to relieve depression.
- Better image. Most people who engage in exercise see a difference in the mirror and in the way their clothes fit, and they like it. The changes they see can be uplifting and give them more confidence.
- Weight loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 43% of adults with depression are obese, and adults who have depression are more likely to be obese. Exercising regularly helps people lose weight and be able to better maintain a healthy weight.
“There are so many good reasons to exercise and not one good one to avoid it,” says Walls. “I work with many people and I see the difference that even a little exercise per week can do for them. Get the endorphins flowing and see for yourself how great you start feeling!”