New Delhi: Depression can make life really difficult. Everything seems to cave in on you when you are feeling low. When getting out of bed seems like the hardest thing to do, an exercise would be the last thing on your mind. However, research suggests that physical activity can really do wonders for your physical and mental health. In fact, exercise can particularly benefit people with depression.
How depression affects the mind
Depression is the most common form of mental illness in the world with more than 300 million people suffering from it. It negatively affects both the body and the brain by pushing the person into a self-destructive spiral of emotions, sometimes even leading to suicidal tendencies in severe cases. Normally, the brain produces a stress-relieving hormone called dopamine to help recover from high levels of stress. However, chronic depression prevents this natural mechanism from kicking in, making it more difficult for the body to recover from stress.
Exercise helps fight depression
Studies show that regular exercise can be extremely beneficial for alleviating depression. It is a well-known fact that people who indulge in regular physical activity of some sort are less prone to depression and other mental ailments. This is because exercise reduces inflammation in the body that may lead to depression. According to a study, people who undertook some form of physical activity for at least 15 minutes per day reduced their risk of major depression by almost 26%.
Experts say that exercising has a cascading effect on your mood. It can be as simple as cycling to work or taking a short walk after a meal. While the link between exercise and depression is not fully understood yet, there is enough evidence that working out can help people deal with depression and anxiety better.
Apart from its physical benefits, exercise has a number of positive psychological effects:
- Exercise releases happy hormones called endorphins that have a stimulating effect on the brain and enhance the overall sense of well-being. Indulging in low-intensity exercises result in the release of chemicals called neurotrophic factors that enhance the formation of new neural connections that improve brain function. Studies reveal that the hippocampus region, the part of the brain that regulates mood, is much smaller in people suffering from depression. Exercise can help strengthen the hippocampus region, thereby relieving depression.
- It helps in building confidence. Exercise not only helps you manage weight but boosts self-confidence by making you feel better about yourself.
- It is a good change from the monotonous routine. Exercise can be a good diversion from the boring monotony of everyday life. It takes your mind off the stress and negative emotions that lead to depression.
- It is a good way to build social interaction. Joining a yoga class, taking a stroll in the garden or hitting the gym are excellent ways to socialise.
The starting point
Depression often causes sleep deprivation, loss of appetite, extreme fatigue, and body pain that can prevent people from physical activity. The first step to breaking away from this vicious cycle is to feel motivated enough to get a head-start. Experts suggest that such people should try to start with at least 5-10 minutes of easy physical activity. Taking a casual 5-minute stroll in the neighbourhood can be a good beginning, which can gradually be increased to 10, 15 and 20 minutes. Within a couple of weeks, you should start to feel more energetic and normal.
Some tips to keep you motivated to exercise
- Get a friend or a close family member to join in.
- Set small targets and reward yourself for achieving them.
- Picking something of interest like playing football or swimming can give you enough motivation to get out of the house. An activity of interest can help you to stick to your goal, which is essential to reap long-term benefits.
- Keep an exercise log and try to be consistent with exercise timing every day.
Exercise is a good way of achieving a good balance between the body and mind. Most cases of depression can be treated without medications. Maintaining physical fitness is crucial in preventing as well as curing depression and keeping a host of other related-illnesses at bay.
(Disclaimer: The author, Mr Praveshh Gaur, Nutritionist and Health Coach, is a guest contributor and a part of our medical expert panel. Views expressed are personal)