When it comes to making lifestyle changes to positively impact your treatment, one of the simplest and most effective steps you can take on your own behalf is to increase your level of physical activity. You don’t need to transform yourself into a world-class athlete, or commit to endless hours in the gym. Simple actions can yield remarkable results.
Can exercise really help?
Research on the subject is very positive, showing that exercise is beneficial for people with depression and/or anxiety. Physical activity has been shown to help counteract depression in several important ways:
- Exercise can reduce the severity of depressive symptoms.
- Exercise leads to improved self-esteem.
- Exercise can help relieve stress by burning off stress chemicals such as adrenaline.
- Exercise can stimulate the body’s release of endorphins, chemicals that have a naturally relaxing and calming effect on the body.
- Exercise may distract you from negative thinking.
- Exercise may improve the quality of your sleep.
There are many great reasons to start today to develop an exercise plan that’s right for you. But for many people experiencing the symptoms of depression, it can be tough to find the motivation to get up and go. This is understandable. After all, depression can bring with it a lack of enthusiasm and energy, and the disease can also have a variety of physical symptoms such as fatigue and pain – all of which can keep a person from undertaking an exercise routine.
If you find you need an additional “push” to get serious about exercise, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Research has shown that aerobic (or heart-rate elevating) activities bring about the most dramatic reductions in depressive symptoms. Other forms of exercise, such as strength training or conditioning may also be effective for helping to manage depressive symptoms. You can choose from a wide variety of active pursuits. If you can identify one or more activities that you enjoy, you’re on your way to developing an effective plan you can stick to.
- Studies have also shown that, when it comes to regulating mood and lessening depressive symptoms, the benefits of exercise can be immediate.
- The long term advantages of exercise are great, too – improved physical strength, more energy and vitality, and weight loss and muscle toning. But in the short term, exercise can begin to help you manage your depression right away.
How do you begin an exercise plan? What kind of exercise is best, and how much exercise is enough to make a difference in helping to manage depression? The answers to these questions are different for each individual. Here are some guidelines to help you get started.
- First, it’s always recommended that you check with your doctor or health care provider before you begin any exercise program. Your doctor can assess your overall fitness level and work with you to determine some general guidelines to follow based on your age and current physical condition.
- Next, choose an activity that you like to do. Ideally, exercise should be enjoyable, not a dreaded chore. Don’t assume that you need to make a big investment in equipment or gym memberships – walking, playing a sport, or doing yard work are all terrific ways to boost your activity level. The key is simply to get moving.
- Decide how much activity is right for you. The American Heart Association recommends that adults devote thirty minutes, five days each week to physical activity to help maintain overall health. That’s a good starting point as you plan your exercise program.
- If you haven’t been physically active for some time, thirty minutes per day five times a week may be a “stretch goal” for you at first. Start slowly and increase your activity level over time. And remember: you can break up your activity into shorter segments during the day, like taking three ten-minute walks, rather than one half-hour session.
- Most people find it helpful to set and maintain a regular routine. Physical activity is as important as any other responsibility you have during the day. When exercise is a priority with a set place on your daily calendar, you will be less likely to forget it or neglect it. So plan on it, and stick to your plan.
Sticking With it
- Get creative with your exercise options. If your preferred activity is walking in your neighborhood, you’ll need to develop a back-up plan for bad weather, such as walking in a nearby shopping mall or enrolling in fitness classes at your local YMCA or community college. Having several fitness options on your list means you can face a change in plans with choices, not excuses.
- Consider partnering with an exercise “buddy.” Many people find the companionship of another person helpful in getting motivated to exercise and staying motivated over time. By making a commitment to exercise together, whether meeting for a daily walk or scheduling a weekly racquetball match, you are assisting each other in setting and reaching your exercise goals. You and your buddy need not exercise together, or even be located in the same town. Many people partner with a buddy remotely, checking in regularly by phone or email to provide encouragement, chart progress and celebrate milestones.
- In this electronic era, some people find that incorporating video or audio technology into their workout makes the experience more enjoyable. Examples include using programs like WiiFit, exercising to DVDs , videotapes or exercise programs available through “on demand” cable tv, or listening to music on your MP3 player.
- Don’t get discouraged. There will be times when, for one reason or another, you fall short of your exercise goals. Keep going, and remember that every effort is worthwhile.