One in ten Americans suffers from depression, a crippling disease that is the leading cause of disability and lost productivity worldwide. Of those who experience chronic depression, just over half seek treatment for it.
Those treatment options are varied and include medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and combinations of each.
Unfortunately, medication and therapy can become expensive for some—and may be hard to access. Medication comes with a slew of possible side effects, which deters some from trying it.
Making lifestyle changes, however, is something everyone can do. And research has found there is one primary lifestyle change that is just as effective as medication alone in many patients. Combined with other treatments, it becomes even more effective. What is it?
A report from Harvard Medical School, explains that “low-intensity exercise sustained over time . . . spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better.”
Brain scans of depressed individuals back this up, demonstrating just how much exercise physically changes the brain.
Dr. Michael Craig Miller, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard says, “In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression.”
Exercise also releases feel-good endorphins that produce psychological and emotional benefits, including:
A boost in confidence.
Making exercise goals and meeting them grows confidence, as does feeling physically strong and in shape.
Increased social interaction. Even just walking around the block outside and smiling at neighbors on your street can improve your mood. And it is far better than staying at home in bed, isolated from society.
The development of healthy coping skills.
Some coping tactics people attempt when depressed—drinking, negative rumination, and so on—actually worsen the depression.
Exercise has no negative side effects and is a proven way to cope with all sorts of stressors, from depression to anger to over scheduling and more.
For individuals who have been depressed but are currently experiencing no symptoms, exercise is a great preventative tool. Sticking to it even when you’re feeling good can help people with mild to moderate depression fight off its return.
The challenge for the depressed individual, of course, is finding the motivation, energy, and strength to start exercising. Many of depression’s worst symptoms work against those who struggle: extreme fatigue, headaches, negative self-talk, disturbed sleep. When just getting out of the bed in the morning seems physically impossible, exercise can feel daunting.
Fortunately, it takes only small steps to start; and the exercises you choose do not have to be grueling. If you want to work up to running or participating in more intense activity later, you can do that after establishing a foundation of regular, lower-impact activity. Here are five things to do to get the process started:
Stretching is an easy place to start because it’s fairly simple, doesn’t take long, and is a great springboard for convincing your body to do more. A study of participants diagnosed with mild to moderate depression who were receiving no medical treatment revealed that stretching for fifteen to twenty minutes a day reduced symptoms by nearly one-third.
Many people find that stretching gets the body moving enough that it starts to crave more and can, therefore, motivate people to add more intense activity to their routines.
A quick search of the internet will reveal dozens of easy stretch routines that focus on whole body stretching and don’t take more than fifteen to twenty minutes to do. Added benefits of stretching include better flexibility, increased balance, and a calmer mind.
2. Take up yoga.
A number of studies demonstrate yoga’s effectiveness in treating depression. Because yoga combines mindfulness with physical activity, it works on two fronts to stimulate the brain: meditation brings the mind into the present and can help relieve ruminating thoughts and stress, while the physical activity helps create a mind-body connection that strengthens muscles and minds. There are many styles of yoga to experiment with, but beginners might find Hatha or Restorative Yoga a good place to start.
3. Build your muscles.
Strength training increases mastery and control—two things that seem painfully absent when depressed. Plus, it can be great for people who want effects similar to that of running or jogging but don’t enjoy either of those activities, as studies have demonstrated that strength training eases depression as effectively as running.
4. Check out Tai Chi.
The gentle, slow movements of this ancient tradition work much like yoga does to clear and calm the mind. Promising research on Tai Chi in older patients with depression has demonstrated that the practice results in significant reductions in depressive symptoms.
Additionally, it improves both physical and cognitive functioning, making the practice an ideal way to help a person gain confidence and banish negative thoughts.
5. Take a walk.
If depression has rendered your life completely sedentary, and you really need to start out slow, start by taking a five-minute walk every day for three days. Add another five minutes for the next three days and repeat until you can go at a brisk pace for twenty-five to thirty minutes.
Ask someone to go along with you or to at least hold you accountable for that time each day. Agree to report daily to friend, family member, or counselor, who will expect to hear from you and receive word that you’ve walked each day. If possible, make your walking time outdoor time so you can gain the added benefits of sunshine and fresh air.
Essential Oil Tips
A number of essential oils work to calm the mind and lift the mood. Try diffusing one of these during a stretching or yoga session; or apply one to your wrists before working out: ylang ylang, bergamot, geranium, rose, myrrh, or frankincense.
For an invigorating experience before working out, try this blend in a diffuser: 5 drops each frankincense, lemon, peppermint, and wild orange.
PS. For more essential oil tips to enhance your exercise routine, check out our Good Mood Bootcamp! Click Below!
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