I keep it no secret that I suffered for 3 years with severe depression, and until I found out about certain ways exercise prevents and treats depression, I was a wreck. I often tell people that exercise saved me, just starting with walking. Movement induces endorphins in the body, which are our natural God-given chemicals needed to create a sense of happiness and stress reduction. The “runner’s high” is no myth, it’s an endorphin rush. Endorphins numb your body from physical and emotional pain and stress. This is only one reason it helps with depression. Other ways exercise prevents and treats depression are listed below, and I hope if nothing else, they get you off the couch, eating junk to fight your sadness, and out moving to fight that depression. Trust me, the couch and bags of cookies don’t work and I know because I’ve tried it!
1. It Helps You Think
One of the best ways exercise prevents and treats depression is it helps you think and process your thoughts much differently than sitting still does. I find many times, my daily walks are my best time to get creative ideas and remind myself of things to get done for the day. Or, if I’m having a bad day, exercise clears my head, helping me to sort through hard to deal with emotions. Exercise is vital in fighting a cloudy head from depression.
2. Helps Insomnia
Exercising everyday is one of the best ways to treat insomnia related to depression. It will help you sleep better, and even working out at night won’t keep you up. You need to move your body enough to be tired. 30-45 minutes a day is all you need for maintenance and healthy sleep levels.
3. Reduces Weight Gain
Depression can lead to weight loss for me, but for me, I gained almost 40 pounds of depression related weight gain my freshman year in college, not from the dining hall. Exercises reduce weight gain in numerous ways, not just by burning calories. Most people find that their overall zest for life is rediscovered, leading them to indulge less in the junk food for solace.
4. Fights High Blood Pressure
Exercise combats high blood pressure by lowering stress in the body. Anxiety and high blood pressure can lead to depression and weight gain, or one or the other. To fight high blood pressure and stress, try calming exercises like walking, yoga, and Pilates.
5. Improves Insulin Function
Exercise improves the rate at which insulin is produced and manufactured in the body. Most people find that if they’re craving something sweet and go for a walk or run, they aren’t as hungry when they get back. Movement improves how fast insulin moves through your cells, which controls your blood sugar, and stops the sugar induced roller coaster many people find themselves on when they’re depressed. Stop eating sugar, and just go take a hike- literally!
6. It Improves NEUROTRANSMITTER Function
Exercise does much more to your brain than you might think. It actually sends chemical messengers to your body in a whole new way. It helps produce serotonin, which is our body’s natural happiness hormone and the best form of natural antidepressant we can get. Exercise also improves mental focus, helping you to get a grip on your thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Your brain can’t make good decisions when you're curled up on the couch or in a bed dealing with depression. Exercise truly can help you make better decisions.
7. Desire to Eat Healthy
Most, though not all, people who start exercising or who already exercise, will have a greater desire to eat healthy too. After all, most of us believe we’re not doing all that movement for nothing! Yet, the effects of exercise on the urge to eat healthy go further than that in regards to losing weight. Exercise seems to give people a sense of drive and determination. Most people find they want to eat healthier when they start exercising, and may even take up other healthy tasks or behaviors like keeping a tidy room, being on time to work, or improving their place in the work status. Everyone is different, but eating healthy seems to be a common denominator against fighting weight gain and depression, and exercise can help you start.
My favorite ways to combat depression are to eat a healthy diet, move my body, get out in nature, and talk with others. Though I still have down days since I’m a human and not perfect, I no longer suffer what I call clinical depression, and I did it all on my own without pills, so I promise it can be done. If you know someone who has started exercising, what benefits have you noticed in their lives?