Many of my friends and loved ones have suffered from depression from some point in their lives, and to differing degrees. It takes away your personality, your confidence and your zing. You don't really want to go out or socialise, and you feel lost and unable to cope with the smallest decision and situations.
My nearest and dearest has learnt to recognise the signs now, and puts in place little checks and balance into his life to redress the balance and strength. Amongst those is regular holidays, yoga and frequent exercise.
Much like nutrition’s role in mental health, decades of research show a link between exercise — resistance training, aerobics, yoga… anything — and better mood.
And the relationship is clear: The more we sit, the sadder we are.
For example, one classic study from Columbia University found that sedentary people are depressed twice as often as active people.
But does an inactive lifestyle cause depression, or vice versa?
A recent study looking at adults over the course of three decades concluded that the relationship is bidirectional. In other words, maybe sitting around makes you depressed, and maybe that reduces your urge to move. And round and round we go.
OK, so moving your body might help you avoid becoming depressed in the first place. But could it also stop depression in its tracks?
For some people, myself included, exercise is as good as antidepressant medications. Or even better. Certainly the more I exercise, the better I feel, and my partner would agree: sleep is better, mood is better.
So how does physical activity improve your state of mind?
Kynurenine is a substance that accumulates in the bloodstream after stress and has been linked to depression. When you exercise, an enzyme produced in teh muscles has the ability to break this down.
Exercise may boost the production of serotonin — a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and some cognitive function, and that may be low in depressed people.
Exercise can give you a short-term burst of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that block pain and produce a natural “high.”
Many types of exercise can lower inflammation, a potential cause of depression.
There’s a reason that some athletes refer to their time at the gym as “therapy.” Exercise can be a great antidote to stress, which research has linked to depression, perhaps owing to the body’s inflammatory stress response.
encouraging happier thoughts and feelings: In 2009, one study explored depressed women’s use of long-distance running as a coping mechanism. Exercise can distract us from negative thoughts and feelings, while making us feel joyful and purposeful. It can also provide a sense of identity, which depression often steals from us.
Whether they are suffering from depression or not, one exercise that seems to make my clients smile is boxing. Its a great way to express pent-up emotions.To use a paragraph from Precision Nutrition
"When I felt helpless, boxing empowered me. When I felt alone, boxing gave me a coach and a community.
When I felt frustrated, angry, or simply like beating the crap out of a heavy bag, well… boxing is just what the depression doctor ordered."
What to do next
I know it’s not easy to do stuff when you’re depressed. Just getting out of bed is a victory some days.
But here are some things you can try, if you’re ready.
#1: Take it step by step
You almost can’t start too small. If a 30 minute jog feels impossible, try a walk around the block. If that feels too far, shrink the distance even further to whatever feels manageable. Walk from the couch to the bathroom a few times.
#2: Try something that used to bring you joy
Depression can bleach the colors out of your rainbow and strip the fun from things you used to love.
Give it a go anyway. Do whatever you love (or used to love), whether it’s taking the dog for a walk or playing touch football with friends.
You might not feel the magic. That’s OK. Just try whatever you can manage.
Because the opposite — living completely without your favorite activities — sucks worse.
#3: Try something new
Depression can disintegrate you. But then, you don’t have any more rules to play by.
Sometimes, the benefit of feeling lost is that you can wander into new territory.
If you can open yourself up to new experiences, you may find pleasure in things you never even considered before.
#4: Get support
Whether it’s therapists, doctors, family or friends, ask for help from the people around you. Tell them you want to try exercise.
They may be able to help you, inspire you, or even join you. If you can, seek out a community-focused gym or athletic group, an online support system, and/or a personal trainer. Assemble the “team” that works best for you.
#5: Get outside
Nature is powerful. Sunshine, fresh air, green space… even the friendly bacteria in soil may make you feel better.
Soak up as much nature as you can. If you live in the city, go to a park or spend time in a local garden. If leaving the house feels too daunting, start by opening a window and bringing some plants into your home. Try to work your way up to spending time outside.
#6: Mix it up
One you’re on a bit of a roll, consider mixing aerobic exercise (such as walking, cycling, running, or swimming), with anaerobic sets. While most studies on depression focus on aerobic activity, there’s a place for strength-based work, too — such as high intensity interval training (HIIT) — which can get those endorphins kicking.
#7: Be consistent
Whatever you can move, move it. The more you move, the better it works.
You might feel better right away after a single exercise session. Or it might take a little while. Either way, keep moving as often as you can, in any way you can.
Meanwhile, observe your symptoms. Consider logging your feelings in a journal, so you can look for benefits. If you’re not getting any better after a test period, consult your doctor.
#8: Be gentle and patient
Don’t beat yourself up if you skip a workout. This isn’t about achieving perfection or becoming a superstar athlete. It’s about doing something good for yourself.
On the flip side, don’t overdo it. Intense training can boost your endorphins, but it can also raise your cortisol, a stress hormone, tax the central nervous system, and cause inflammation — none of which will help depression.
How do you put this all together? Think about designing your own personal prescription.
Therapy, medication, nutrition, social support, and any other creative methods of your choosing may all work together to help you get better, over time. Pick what works best for you.
Everyone experiences depression differently. You might find that exercise doesn’t do much.
But it might just become the best depression-fighter you’ll ever find.
Eat, move, and live… better.
The health and fitness world can sometimes be a confusing place. But it doesn’t have to be.
Let us help you make sense of it all with a simple exercise plan.
You’ll learn the best eating, exercise, and lifestyle strategies — unique and personal — for you.