Improved self-esteem is a key psychological benefit of regular physical activity. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.

Endorphins diminish the perception of pain. They also act as sedatives. They are manufactured in your brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of your body and released in response to brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neuron receptors endorphins bind to are the same ones that bind some pain medicines. However, unlike some pain medicines, the activation of these receptors by the body’s endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence.

Regular exercise has proved to:
  • Reduce stress
  • Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Improve sleep
Exercise also has these added health benefits:
  • Strengthens your heart.
  • Increases energy levels.
  • Lowers blood pressure.
  • Improves muscle tone and strength.
  • Strengthens and builds bones.
  • Helps reduce body fat.
  • Makes you look fit and healthy.

Research has shown that exercise is a useful but often underused treatment for mild to moderate depression.

Types of Exercises That Are Better for Depression

Any form of exercise can help depression. Some examples of moderate exercise include:

  • Biking
  • Dancing
  • Gardening
  • Golf (walking instead of using the cart)
  • Housework
  • Jogging at a moderate pace
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Playing tennis
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Yard work
  • Yoga

Strong social support is vital for those with depression, joining a group exercise class may be beneficial. Or you can exercise with a close friend or your partner. In doing so, you will benefit from physical activity and emotional comfort, knowing that others are supportive of you.

Before you begin an exercise program for depression, here are some questions you should consider: What physical activities do I enjoy? Do I prefer group or individual activities? What program best fit my schedule? Do I have physical conditions that limit my choice of exercise? What goals do I have in mind? (For example weight loss, strengthening muscles, improving flexibility, or mood enhancement)

Try to exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week. Studies indicate that exercising four or five times a week is even better. Take it easy if you are beginning. Start exercising for 15 minutes. Then you can build it up. Like climbing a mountain at altitude, we must go slowly. When you first start your exercise program, you should plan a routine that is easy to follow and maintain. When you start feeling comfortable with your routine, then you can begin to vary your exercise times and activities.

Here are some tips to help you get started:
  1. Choose an activity you enjoy. Exercising should be fun.
  2. Put your exercise routine into your schedule. If you need reminding, put it on your calendar.
  3. Variety is the spice of life. Make sure you vary your exercises so that you don’t get bored.
  4. Check your local gymnasium or community centre for an assortment of exercise programs.
  5. Don’t let exercise programs break the bank. Unless you are going to be using them regularly, avoid buying health club memberships or expensive equipment.
  6. Stick with it. If you exercise regularly, it will soon become part of your lifestyle and will help reduce your depression.

For most people, it is OK to start an exercise program without checking with a healthcare provider. However, if you have not exercised for a while, are over age 50, or have a medical condition such as diabetes or heart disease, contact your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program. Never ignore pain. You may cause stress and damage to your joints and muscles if you continue exercising through the pain.

If you still feel pain a couple of hours after exercising, you have probably overexerted yourself and need to decrease your activity level. If your pain persists or is severe, or if you suspect you have injured yourself, contact your doctor. Unable to participate in exercise or athletics regularly, you can also try other tools to help boost your mood. Meditation and massage therapy have demonstrated that these techniques can stimulate endorphin secretion, increase relaxation, and aid in raising the mood.

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