Exercise is a known mood booster, as well as being important for your physical health, but it also can help people better manage anxiety and depression.
“We have known for a long time that exercise promotes physiological and neurochemical responses that make you feel good,” Nanette Mutrie, a professor at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Sport, Physical Education and Health Sciences, told The Guardian.
“When we exercise, the brain releases endorphins, as well as dopamine and serotonin. Very often, these same chemicals form part of antidepressant drugs.”
A JAMA Psychiatry study from earlier this year found a link between objectively-assessed physical activity and the risk for major depressive disorder. The data suggests that exercise offers a protective effect against depression. However, this does not hold true for self-reported physical activity.
“Findings point to the importance of objective measurement of physical activity in epidemiological studies of mental health and support the hypothesis that enhancing physical activity may be an effective prevention strategy for depression,” the authors wrote.
Additional studies have shown that exercise can improve symptoms of depression temporarily, according to the Anxiety Depression Association of America. Even a quick walk can provide a few hours of relief. Other studies have found physically active people were less likely to experience anxiety and depression than sedentary people.
Another study of more than 1.2 million U.S. adults, published last year, showed that exercise reduces the number of days a person experiences poor mental health by almost two days a month, PSYCOM.NET reported. Team sports, plus cycling and gym activities, appear to offer the best results.
The Mayo Clinic experts suggest doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for 3 to 5 days week to improve depression or anxiety symptoms. Making exercise a permanent part of a weekly routine shows the most benefit.
• Take it slow in the beginning. Even a short walk can help.
• Start with strength training instead of cardio, which can raise your heart rate and increase your anxiety.
• Go to the gym at times that are less crowded.
• Try outdoor activities or spending time in nature when it is hard to be around other people.
• If you are lonely, go for group workouts. Just slip out early if you start to feel overwhelmed. Tomorrow is another day.
• Listen to music or an audiobook while exercising to distract yourself from negative thoughts.
• Ask a friend or family member to exercise with you. It helps to have someone with you that understands what you are going through.
• Pick physical activities that you enjoy to better ensure that you will stick with it.
The results of exercise as a part of therapy can vary, so talk to your doctor about what combination of treatment options work best for you.